AFSCME.org Blog Feed http://www.afscme.org/rss/blog AFSCME.org Blog Tue, 3 May 2011 05:00:00 +0000 AMPS en hourly 1 Illinois Supreme Court Rules Pension Cuts Unconstitutional http://www.afscme.org/blog/illinois-supreme-court-rules-pension-cuts-unconstitutional Wed, 27 May 2015 12:00:00 -0500 http://www.afscme.org/blog/illinois-supreme-court-rules-pension-cuts-unconstitutional The Illinois Supreme Court unanimously ruled that a $105 billion pension change affecting half a million active and retired public employees is unconstitutional.

The law passed in 2013 reduced pension benefits for active and retired employees of the state of Illinois, state universities and teachers outside Chicago, even though the state’s constitution explicitly provides that pension benefits cannot be diminished.

AFSCME and other public sector unions filed suit to overturn the law.

In its ruling, the court rejected claims that the state’s dire fiscal straits justified the pension reductions.

“Crisis is not an excuse to abandon the rule of law,” wrote Justice Lloyd A. Karmeier, who authored the ruling. “It is a summons to defend it.”

The justices noted that lawmakers had failed to keep in place a 2011 temporary income tax hike that boosted the personal tax rate to 5 percent. The increase automatically phased down to 3.75 percent for individuals at the start of the year, reducing annual revenue by $4 billion.

The pension law passed in 2013 would have lowered cost-of-living increases for retirees, extended retirement ages for current employees and limited the amount of salary used to calculate pension benefits, with the effect of reducing the average pension benefit by more than 30 percent over two decades of retirement. Most Illinois public employees aren’t eligible for Social Security and the average pension of $32,000 per year is their primary source of income.

“We are thankful that the Supreme Court unanimously upheld the will of the people, overturned this unfair and unconstitutional law, and protected the hard-earned life savings of correctional officers, caregivers, first responders, teachers, and other public service workers and retirees,” said Roberta Lynch, executive director of AFSCME Illinois Council 31.

The court’s decision will likely affect a lawsuit filed by AFSCME and other unions challenging a law backed by Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel that cuts pensions of city employees and retirees.

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Attack on Public-Service Jobs Hits African-Americans Hardest http://www.afscme.org/blog/attack-on-public-service-jobs-hits-african-americans-hardest Wed, 27 May 2015 12:45:00 -0500 http://www.afscme.org/blog/attack-on-public-service-jobs-hits-african-americans-hardest African-Americans pay a high price when public-service jobs and collective bargaining power is lost. This is a grim picture drawn in human terms in a profile by The New York Times of Miami public-service workers who are black and trying to make it in a state whose anti-union governor has been cutting public services and undermining workers’ rights by attacking their unions.

For millions of black families in America, “working for the government has long provided a dependable pathway to the middle class and a measure of security harder to find in the private sector, particularly for those without college degrees,” The Times report says. “Roughly one in five black adults works for the government, teaching school, delivering mail, driving buses, processing criminal justice and managing large staffs. They are about 30 percent more likely to have a public-sector job than non-Hispanic whites, and twice as likely as Hispanics.”

The problem is endemic not only in Florida but in other states where right-wing governors have gone after public-service workers and their unions, and it goes back many years, as AFSCME Pres. (then Sec.-Treas.) Lee Saunders noted in The Root in May 2011:

“These revelations mean that the plans by radical governors to rob public employees of their rights, shrink pay and benefits, and cut jobs will have a disproportionate impact on black families and communities,” Saunders wrote, adding that “it will get worse if ultraconservative politicians cripple public-sector unions, making them incapable of protecting their members.”

The attraction of public-sector jobs for African-Americans is obvious, The Times points out:

“Many employed blacks are stuck in lower-wage industries that tend to have fewer benefits and higher turnover, which is one reason public-sector jobs – more likely to be unionized and subject to stricter anti-discrimination protections – have been such a magnet for blacks.”

Public-service jobs at the local, state and federal levels dropped with the loss of tax revenues following the Great Recession, The Times noted. Despite a growing economy, those jobs have not grown with it.

“An incomplete recovery is part of the reason,” The Times story said, “but a combination of strong anti-government and anti-tax sentiment in some places has kept down public payrolls. At the same time, attempts to curb collective bargaining, like those led by Wisconsin’s governor, Scott Walker, a likely Republican presidential candidate, have weakened public unions.”

Governor Walker’s anti-union campaign is a story of corporate greed and anti-union sentiment with roots in racism. The struggle of African Americans to escape poverty is mirrored in those developments, and The New York Times story attempts to make their reality understood by us all. Read it here.

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Communities Rally Around EMS Providers http://www.afscme.org/blog/communities-rally-around-ems-providers Tue, 26 May 2015 12:38:00 -0500 http://www.afscme.org/blog/communities-rally-around-ems-providers Communities nationwide honored the commitment and sacrifice of emergency medical professionals last week, with many calling for the nation’s largest private EMS provider to start respecting its workforce.

From Missouri to California, EMS workers spoke with residents and local officials about their mission to improve patient care at American Medical Response (AMR). High employee turnover, aging ambulances and equipment, and long hours are all too common with private EMS providers such as AMR. Because these issues can put the public at risk, emergency medical professionals are determined to gain a voice at AMR to make sure quality patient care always comes first. 

In Missouri, EMT Robert Mills and Paramedic Joey Ford addressed these issues before the Independence City Council.

“As the population of Independence grows, so does the number of emergency calls,” said Mills. “It’s important, now more than ever, that we have an open dialogue between EMS personnel and the city —  and between EMS personnel and our employer, AMR.”

Ford added, “We aim to improve AMR for our patients, our families, and your families. With your help, we can get it done.”

Their colleagues at AMR in Riverside County, California, took that message to a local health fair where more than 150 residents signed cards in support of their mission. Many were surprised when they learned of AMR’s 28 percent turnover rate last year.

“We want to raise awareness about our profession and our mission,” said Paramedic Brian Corona. “When people understand what we do, they’re willing to stand with us.”

Negotiations with the company resume in early June, and it’s time for AMR to listen. The licensed professionals working on the front lines every day need a voice at AMR to improve patient care, and residents who depend on their services agree.

Click here to read President Lee Saunders’ EMS Week column in the Huffington Post.

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Right-to-Work Scam Gets Smackdown http://www.afscme.org/blog/right-to-work-scam-gets-smackdown Tue, 26 May 2015 10:57:00 -0500 http://www.afscme.org/blog/right-to-work-scam-gets-smackdown SPRINGFIELD, Illinois—Thanks to an energized and organized labor community in Illinois, politicians in big towns and small have taken heed that local right-to-work zones proposed by Gov. Bruce Rauner are not a popular idea. Legislators in the Illinois House let Rauner know the same, when a vote on the measure yielded zero “yes” votes of support and 72 “nos.”

This smackdown of one of the key components of the new governor’s self-dubbed “turnaround” agenda is a stinging rebuke to his anti-labor crusade. Speeches on the House floor clearly exposed the governor’s real goal in promoting right-to-work measures: trying to weaken workers’ voices.

“What right-to-work does, this is the only thing it does, is it gives somebody the ability to freeload,” said Rep. Larry Walsh Jr., a Democrat from Joliet and a 20-year machinists’ union member. “That's what it does. They get the same benefits, the same wages, the same protections as that of a union member. And what that does is destroy the inner-functions of organized labor.”

In addition to pushing the right-to-work scam on local communities, Rauner illegally stopped fair share fees paid by state employees who choose not to join the union but benefit from its gains. He would also like to outlaw political contributions from labor unions, while allowing corporate donations.

“This governor has no respect for unions or the working people who choose to join them,” said Roberta Lynch, executive director of AFSCME Illinois Council 31 and an AFSCME International vice president. “The House of Representatives’ vote of ‘no support’ for his policies should make clear to him that his anti-union plans are not popular with the people of Illinois.”

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AFSCME Strong Activists Step It Up http://www.afscme.org/blog/afscme-strong-activists-step-it-up Fri, 22 May 2015 17:38:00 -0500 http://www.afscme.org/blog/afscme-strong-activists-step-it-up Activist trainings were held in San Diego, California, Washington state and New York City in recent weeks, taking the AFSCME Strong campaign to the next level. 

AFSCME Strong is about engaging members of our union one conversation at a time. Coaches’ trainings occurred already throughout the country. During the next year, we will train 5 percent of our union’s members to become activists. They, in turn, will have one-on-one conversations with their coworkers about the importance of standing up for our jobs, our families and our futures. In this way, we will connect with a majority of our union’s members to fight attacks against our wages, benefits and pensions.

Coaches train activists. Activists reach out to their coworkers, engaging 80 percent of members across the nation and making our union stronger. That’s how it works.

Arabela Corros is a registered nurse in Riverside, California. She is a member of the United Nurses Associations of California (UNAC)/AFSCME Local 1199 and an active steward in her union. In early May, she became one of 164 activists trained during the Nurses Congress held in San Diego. Participants were from UNAC, Ohio Council 8, and the Hawaii Government Employees Association/AFSCME Local 152, among others. 

 “I feel inspired and empowered with the knowledge and training I obtained during the seminar,” Corros said. “I have always been an advocate for fairness and equal rights. Having a good knowledge of individual rights and responsibilities will make me a better person and an effective activist and leader. I want to help our union grow for the future of our kids.”

New York City

More than 130 activists from District Council 37 were trained on May 2nd. With a contract fight at The City University of New York, ongoing campaigns to protect public services, and a fight for pay equity on the line, the AFSCME Strong training could not come at a better time. 

As part of the training, the New York activists went to more than 30 worksites to hear firsthand from AFSCME members in 10 different locals on the issues important to them and their families. They held conversations with more than 140 workers on these sites and signed up 100 new PEOPLE members, with 70 percent at the MVP level. 

Council 28

Washington Council 28 held a training on April 11 during which 100 AFSCME members were trained as activists. Held in SeaTac, Washington, the new activists came from nearly all Council 28 locals, representing groups of workers from throughout the state.

One of the training participants, Tracy Stanley, president of AFSCME Local 1400, said her motivation for being active in her union was “knowing what is at stake and knowing there is a real possibility that we could lose many of the rights that took immense struggle to obtain.”

“There is so much to be thankful for to those before us,” she added. “Many paid the high price of activism with their freedom; some paid with their lives.  I believe I owe it to the next generation to hold on to those rights and continue the fight for further economic, social, and political justice for all American workers.”

The AFSCME Strong training was an inspiring experience to her that is already helping her achieve her goals, she said.

“Practicing speaking, and more importantly, listening techniques in a safe environment with other members has given me the confidence to speak in a number of environments where I have been able to share the vision of our union and how unions as a whole benefit not just workers that are union members, but all workers,” Stanley said.

Also, thousands of state employees walked out of more than 80 worksites on May 20 to urge the state legislature to honor negotiated pay raises. Council 28 organized the “unity breaks,” which occurred during lunch breaks at noon.

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‘Thank You for Breaking the Law, Governor Christie’ http://www.afscme.org/blog/thank-you-for-breaking-the-law-governor-christie Fri, 22 May 2015 17:33:00 -0500 http://www.afscme.org/blog/thank-you-for-breaking-the-law-governor-christie


Nearly 1,000 New Jersey residents, including more than 100 members of AFSCME Councils 1, 52, 71 and 73, had a pointed message for Gov. Chris Christie after he called on public employees to send him a thank you note for paying into the state pension system.

With the governor and his team of lawyers pursuing legal action to break his own law guaranteeing that public employees receive an annual payment into the pension system, the workers showed up in Trenton to demand that Christie honor the law. The message was underscored in the days that followed, with the American Federation of Teachers and New Jersey Education Association running a radio ads; and the Communications Workers crafting a true “thank you” from all residents of New Jersey.

“Dear Gov. Christie, Thank you for breaking the law and skipping pension payments, for destroying services and risking our retirement security to coddle millionaires and corporations with tax breaks and subsidies, for forcing workers to pay more while handing Wall Street outrageous fees for managing the pensions."

The state Supreme Court is slated to rule by the end of June on whether the Christie administration broke the law by failing to make the scheduled pension payments, as defined by the law his administration created.

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Washington State Employees Take ‘Unity Breaks’ Over Stalled Pay Raises http://www.afscme.org/blog/washington-state-employees-take-unity-breaks-over-stalled-pay-raises Fri, 22 May 2015 12:00:00 -0500 http://www.afscme.org/blog/washington-state-employees-take-unity-breaks-over-stalled-pay-raises Thousands of state employees walked out of more than 80 worksites this week to urge the state legislature to end the stalemate and implement negotiated pay raises for state workers.

Washington Federation of State Employees (WFSE) and Governor Jay Inslee last September reached a tentative agreement to fund contracts that included a total pay increase of 4.8 percent (3 percent on July 1, 2015, and 1.8 percent on July 1, 2016). The state House, controlled by Democrats, supports the governor’s budget proposal to fund the state employee contracts, but the state Senate, controlled by Republicans, continues to reject the agreements.

The statewide walkout occurred during lunch breaks at noon on Wednesday, May 20. Called “Unity Breaks” by WFSE members, the walkout was the largest coordinated job action since WFSE’s successful strike in 2001.

The coordinated effort comes a week after a salary-setting board approved 11 percent raises for legislators. “Senators who are getting an 11 percent pay raise shouldn’t be playing games with a 4.8 percent raise for a custodial worker, or food service worker, or a caregiver for the mentally disabled,” said Tim Welch, WFSE public affairs director.

Thornton Alberg, a Licenses & Inspections employee and WFSE vice president, added, “We took pay cuts, we took furloughs. It’s been hard ... we’re just falling further and further behind.” These would be the first pay raises for state employees in seven years. For two of those years, state workers took 3 percent pay cuts, furloughs and layoffs.

The demonstration included rallies inside the Department of Labor office and Department of Social and Health Services building, where more than 500 combined employees waved signs that read, “Fund public services & public employee contracts,” and “I have a family.”

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Milbank ‘Back Home’ in His Union http://www.afscme.org/blog/milbank-back-home-in-his-union Fri, 22 May 2015 12:00:00 -0500 http://www.afscme.org/blog/milbank-back-home-in-his-union Those who have enjoyed reading Dana Milbank’s often scathing and generally humorous column in The Washington Post, where he has skewered pretentious politicians and clueless opinion leaders over the years, were treated this week to his own personal tale of redemption.

After years in the wilderness, Milbank has come home to his union, Local 32035 of the Communications Workers of America, The News Guild.

He left the union a few years ago because he disagreed with a specific policy, he said, but he returned because he believes that our nation needs unions now more than ever, and he cited numerous statistics showing how labor’s decline has led to a crisis in income inequality. Now he is seeing signs of labor’s recovery, and he is jumping on board.

“Straws in the wind suggest a building backlash,” Milbank writes. “On Tuesday, Los Angeles approved a $15 minimum wage, joining more than 17 states and several municipalities that have raised their minimum wages since 2013. Fast food and retail employers, under pressure, have announced increases in low wages covering some 2 million workers.”

He also cited the primary win of union-backed Jim Kenney for Philadelphia mayor this week and labor’s rambunctious opposition to President Obama’s fast-tracked trade deal as evidence that unions are making a comeback.

“We can all see and feel the consequences of labor’s demise. For me and, I hope, for others, it’s time for a homecoming.” You can read his full column here.

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ALEC, Legislators Caught Making Sausage http://www.afscme.org/blog/alec-legislators-caught-making-sausage Thu, 21 May 2015 12:00:00 -0500 http://www.afscme.org/blog/alec-legislators-caught-making-sausage

”Laws, like sausages, cease to inspire respect in proportion as we know how they are made,” American poet John Godfrey Saxe once said. Now there is video proof of just how ugly that process can be — especially if the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) is involved.

Investigative reporter Brendan Keefe of Atlanta 11Alive TV News followed the story as far as he could at a resort hotel where ALEC lobbyists and Georgia state legislators worked on “model legislation.” Barred from the backrooms, he dug up the story through other means, including working the bar where a corporate lobbyist and Ohio state legislator supplied inside information.

ALEC officials tried to intimidate Keefe by bringing in Georgia state troopers, but the reporter stood his ground and got the story about how Georgia legislators and corporate lobbyists were literally voting on what laws to support. The result is powerful footage of sausage-making at work.

The report comes amid new revelations in an IRS Whistleblower Complaint that ALEC is engaged in tax fraud – essentially a corporate lobby masquerading as a charity. The organization has lost more than 100 corporate sponsors over the past year.

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OMG! Are You Prepared for a (Union-Made) Summer? http://www.afscme.org/blog/omg-are-you-prepared-for-a-union-made-summer Wed, 20 May 2015 12:00:00 -0500 http://www.afscme.org/blog/omg-are-you-prepared-for-a-union-made-summer Yikes! Summertime is just around the corner and you’re not prepared. For help, look no further than our handy dandy guide to union-made products.

These products not only will help prevent sunburn but they will also support good American jobs that provide living wages and benefits negotiated through collective bargaining.

Pull out the ChapStick, slather on the Coppertone, grease up that John Deere ‑ all products produced by working women and men who have safe working conditions and rights on the job because their union fought for them.

Buying union-made products also helps create an economy that works for all of us.

Shop Union! Print out this list and take it with you when you go to the grocery store, sporting goods store, hardware store or shop for a new air conditioner.

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AFSCME Helps Push Kenney to Win in Philly http://www.afscme.org/blog/afscme-helps-push-kenney-to-win-in-philly Wed, 20 May 2015 12:00:00 -0500 http://www.afscme.org/blog/afscme-helps-push-kenney-to-win-in-philly PHILADELPHIA — AFSCME members were instrumental in helping a former member to a decisive win in the Democratic primary for mayor on May 19. Jim Kenney, the son of a firefighter and a former AFSCME District 1199C member, trounced the other five candidates in the crowded primary despite massive spending by pro-charter school hedge fund billionaires who backed another candidate.

Members of AFSCME District Council 33, District Council 47 and National Union of Hospital and Health Care Employees (NUHHCE) District 1199C mobilized union members and their families throughout the city. With the help of AFSCME retirees, they made more than 100,000 phone calls, knocked on nearly 23,000 doors, sent more than 114,000 pieces of mail, and reached 20,000-plus members through digital outreach.

During an Election Day canvass launch at District 1199C, Kenney told members, “You know how you get your wages? You unionize and you negotiate with your employer. That’s what sets what the real wage should be based on the economy and based on your value as employees and I am so proud — I am extremely proud — to be supported by this union.”

During the campaign, Kenney ran on his progressive record and positions on strengthening public schools, forging new partnerships and accountability between the community and law enforcement, and fostering an economy that works for everyone.

Kenney faces competition in the November general election, but the Democrat traditionally is a strong favorite in Philadelphia.

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The Season’s Hottest Accessories: Tattoos, Vintage Boots… and a Union Card? http://www.afscme.org/blog/the-seasons-hottest-accessories-tattoos-vintage-boots-and-a-union-card Wed, 20 May 2015 12:00:00 -0500 http://www.afscme.org/blog/the-seasons-hottest-accessories-tattoos-vintage-boots-and-a-union-card Do you have a pile of old AFSCME T-shirts in the back of your closet? It turns out there’s a market for those! We noticed this shirt for sale in a trendy vintage shop on etsy.com, where it sold for $15. There are old AFSCME jackets going for as much as hundred dollars on eBay!

The union movement is getting a lot of renewed attention these days, and not just because we’re fighting back against unprecedented assaults on working people. There’s something retro-cool about the labor movement. Young people show strong support for unions. And for those who might want to join a union, we can promise a whole lot more than vintage T-shirts. To name a few:

  • When you finally need prescription lenses in those horn-rimmed glasses, you’ll be glad you bargained for optical insurance in your contract.
  • You eat local and buy local. Why not join your local, too?
  • Some of your favorite things are union-made. You can find the union label on every can of PBR—and dozens of other fine beverages.
  • There’s nothing more normcore than job stability.
  • Do you like vinyl records? We’ve got that too.
  • Think you’ve got a sweet moustache? Wait till you see AFL-CIO president Richard Trumka. 
  • The average union member makes $207 more per week than her non-union counterpart and is more likely to have paid vacation time. You’ll totally be able to do Coachella next year.
  • And of course, we were into it before it was cool:

    Three men from the 70's with protest signs, perms, and AFSCME "In the Public Service" shirts

But there are serious reasons that young people could use a union. This may be the first generation of Americans that ends up worse-off than their parents, and it’s all because our economy has been twisted to favor wealthy business owners over working people.

Maybe you’re saddled with student debt and the interest just keeps piling up. Maybe you’re working an unpaid internship that seems to be adding more to the company’s bottom line than to your resume. Maybe you’re working a part time or temp job doing something that could have been a career back in your parents’ day – but you’re barely staying afloat.

It doesn’t have to be this way. The McJob economy wasn’t inevitable. It was carefully planned by the people at the top who are making big profits from low wages and poor working conditions. But when ordinary people talk back and advocate for a better system, we can rebuild an economy that works for everyone. We know it’s possible because we’ve done it before. Let’s bring it back into style.

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Maryland Law Would Regulate Outsourcing http://www.afscme.org/blog/maryland-law-would-regulate-outsourcing Wed, 20 May 2015 12:00:00 -0500 http://www.afscme.org/blog/maryland-law-would-regulate-outsourcing Maryland public employees will play a greater role in ensuring the state does not outsource public services in a reckless manner under a measure signed into law last week by Gov. Larry Hogan.

“Public employees often have the best suggestions on how to promote efficiency and save taxpayer dollars,” said AFSCME Maryland Council 3 Pres. Patrick Moran. “No one knows how to improve service delivery more than the hard-working women and men who have been providing the services for years.”

The legislation was a top priority for AFSCME Maryland, which worked closely with legislators and agency staff to push for its passage.

The law will reduce the risk of contracting failures in the state, ensuring that any outsourcing effort “is truly the most effective option,” said Shar Habibi, director of research and policy for In the Public Interest, a comprehensive resource center on privatization and responsible contracting.

Previously, Maryland state agencies were required to consider alternatives before contracting out a public service, including allowing public employees to do the work. The new law, sponsored by Delegate Keith E. Haynes, will help ensure fairness both to taxpayers who foot the bill, and the public service workers who already perform the work.

State agency officials now are required to meet with a representative of the affected employees at least 60 days before entering into a contract. That includes a representative of the employees’ union. In addition, the law requires a legislative audit of contracts of outsourced services as a way to prevent cost-overruns and other problems that otherwise could go unnoticed, hurting the interest of the state’s taxpayers.

Also, the new law extends these protections to the state’s Department of Transportation and the public university system, which had been exempted from rules designed to strengthen oversight and accountability of the contracting process.

Such increased oversight is designed to give Maryland taxpayers “faith that their tax dollars are being spent wisely,” said Habibi, whose organization is pushing these common-sense reforms as part of its Taxpayer Empowerment Agenda.

Maryland is the latest of a growing list of states curbing reckless outsourcing of public services. “In The Public Interest will continue to encourage reforms that ensure public contracts with private entities are transparent, fair, well-managed, and effectively monitored, and that those contracts meet the long-term needs of communities,” Habibi said.

Last year, In the Public Interest issued a report demonstrating pervasive problems in government outsourcing to for-profit companies. Learn more about how states are working to stop bad outsourcing decisions here.

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Right-to-Work Scam Hurts All Workers http://www.afscme.org/blog/right-to-work-scam-hurts-all-workers Mon, 18 May 2015 12:00:00 -0500 http://www.afscme.org/blog/right-to-work-scam-hurts-all-workers State lawmakers in Missouri who eagerly jumped on the right-to-work bandwagon last week should have done their homework. Maybe if they had, they wouldn’t have passed a bill that will fail union and nonunion workers alike.

The Center for American Progress Action Fund and the Economic Policy Institute (EPI) issued reports recently detailing how the right-to-work (RTW) scam hurts workers by weakening collective bargaining and unions’ ability to negotiate good wages and benefits.

According to EPI, wages in RTW states are 3.1 percent lower than they are in non-RTW states. That’s a difference in pay of $1,558 a year for a typical full-time, full-year employee, the report says. 

“At their core, RTW laws seek to hamstring unions’ ability to help employees bargain with their employers for better wages, benefits and working conditions,” the EPI report stated.

What’s the biggest difference between employees in RTW and free bargaining states? In states without the RTW scam on their books, workers are more than twice as likely to be in a union or protected by a union contract, EPI says. That’s ultimately good news for all workers, because the wages and benefits unions negotiate help to set the standard across industries and regions – and thereby build the middle class.

Unfortunately, middle class income has shrunk in tandem with the marked decrease in union density since the late ‘60s.  The Center for American Progress Action Fund finds that the RTW scam reduces wages and undermines unions “at a time when wage increases could bolster our middle class and strengthen local economies.”  

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What’s Wrong With This Picture? http://www.afscme.org/blog/whats-wrong-with-this-picture Mon, 18 May 2015 12:00:00 -0500 http://www.afscme.org/blog/whats-wrong-with-this-picture In a world where the growing gap between the rich and poor keeps getting larger, we are not surprised to learn that the painting pictured here, “The Field Next to the Other Road” by American painter Jean-Michel Basquiat, just sold to a so-far anonymous buyer for $37.1 million at a Christie's auction.

At the same auction, a Picasso painting sold to an anonymous buyer for $179.4 million, breaking all records for an artist’s work sold at auction.

For Christie’s, it was a $1 billion art sale that broke all the records. For the rest of us, it’s cause for concern. There’s something wrong with this picture. Neil Irwin, senior economics correspondent for The New York Times, put it this way in a recent column:

“The astronomical rise in prices for the most-sought-after works of art over the last generation is in large part the story of rising global inequality. At its core, this is the simplest of economic math. … But the number of people with the will and the resources to buy top-end art is rising, thanks to the distribution of extreme wealth.”

As New York dealer Francis Beatty, of Richard Feigen & Co., told artnet after the sale, “Fifty million is the new normal.”

If that’s the new normal, something definitely is wrong. It’s wrong because average working Americans are not just falling behind – they’re sinking. Adjusted for inflation, incomes are at their lowest point since 1996, reports Inequality.org.

Meanwhile, last year, the CEOs whose companies make up the S&P 500 Index received, on average, $13.5 million in total compensation – an increase of 15.6 percent from the previous year, according to data compiled by the AFL-CIO’s Executive PayWatch.

“It hasn't always been this way,” AFSCME Pres. Lee Saunders wrote in Roll Call. “There was a time in our not-so-distant past when poor Americans could work their way into the middle class. There was a time when people in the middle class could afford to buy a home, send their kids to college and save for retirement. Today, middle-class families must make a choice - a home, college or retirement. They no longer can do all three.”

Saunders wrote that “Unions were and continue to be the only organizations willing to stand up and fight for working people and the middle class. And it is unions that can get us out of the mess we're in now.”

AFSCME is trying to help create an economy that works for everyone.

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Missouri Legislature Passes Right-to-Work Scam http://www.afscme.org/blog/missouri-legislature-passes-right-to-work-scam Fri, 15 May 2015 12:00:00 -0500 http://www.afscme.org/blog/missouri-legislature-passes-right-to-work-scam JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. – The anti-worker majority in the Missouri Legislature passed so-called “right to work” legislation last week, defying Gov. Jay Nixon to issue his promised veto of the bill.

The legislation allows workers to receive the benefits of a union contract without having to share in the costs of collective bargaining. A “model” created by the corporate-backed American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), such “right-to-work” scams are meant to under undermine workers’ rights by weakening their unions.

The measure was approved 92-66 in the state House on May 13, one day after the Senate passed the bill, 21-13. Despite its approval, opponents worked on both sides of the aisle to defeat the measure. Of the members who voted against it in both houses, 27 were Republicans.

The vote fell short of the two-thirds necessary to override an expected veto by Governor Nixon, who condemned the vote.

"Attacking workers and weakening the middle class will not create jobs," Nixon said. "In fact, rolling back the rights of working people would weaken our economy by lowering wages and making it harder for middle class families to move up the economic ladder." Read his full statement.

Similar anti-worker legislation is  being pushed in other states as well. Lawmakers in Kentucky and New Mexico rejected such bills earlier this year, and Missouri workers have warned that the right-to-work scam will hurt the state’s economy.

“I care for Missouri's heroes and I can barely make ends meet on my already low salary," said Wendy Battaglia, a certified nurse assistant at the Cameron Veteran's Home, AFSCME Council 72. "Right-to-work will make it even harder for workers across Missouri to get a fair shake so they can care for their own families.”

 

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Connecticut Workers to Receive Up to $125 Million in Layoff Settlement http://www.afscme.org/blog/connecticut-workers-to-receive-up-to-125-million-in-layoff-settlement Fri, 15 May 2015 12:00:00 -0500 http://www.afscme.org/blog/connecticut-workers-to-receive-up-to-125-million-in-layoff-settlement More than 2,700 Connecticut public employees are about to receive justice after a 12-year fight as the Legislature is set to approve an out-of-court settlement for up to an estimated $125 million in back pay and additional leave time.

The settlement stems from Gov. John Rowland’s decision in 2003 to fire 2,300 unionized workers and force an additional 400 to take lower paying jobs. Under the guise of fiscal savings, the three-term governor attempted to break the unions by targeting only bargaining unit members for layoff. AFSCME Council 4 members didn’t back down, working in concert with the 16 unions that comprise the State Employees Bargaining Agency Coalition to take the state to court and fight the injustice.

The U.S. Court of Appeals ruled in 2013 that the state violated the employee’s First Amendment right to freedom of association by discriminatorily laying off only union members. They concluded that the state employees were fired because of their union membership.

“Rowland’s disrespect for the Constitution and the laws he swore to uphold devastated our communities and deprived Connecticut citizens of vital public services,” said Sal Luciano, Council 4 executive director and also an AFSCME International vice president. “We stood with other unions to fight back and seek justice, and we won.”

The long fight was worth it, said AFSCME Local 562 member Merisa Williams, a state clerical employee who, like many layoff victims, was out of work for six months.  “It sends a clear message to elected officials across the country that when you target workers – unions and their families – we will not be bullied and we will not give up until we get justice for all workers,” she said.

The settlement, estimated to be worth between $100 million and $125 million, is pending approval by the state legislature. A breakdown of how much each effected worker will receive is still to be determined. “Council 4 members will keep the pressure on the state legislature to ensure that all the 2,700 people receive their just due,” Executive Director Luciano said.

 

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From Farm Hand to AFSCME Strong http://www.afscme.org/blog/from-farm-hand-to-afscme-strong Fri, 15 May 2015 12:00:00 -0500 http://www.afscme.org/blog/from-farm-hand-to-afscme-strong PHILADELPHIA – Melvin Starchia, 55, is AFSCME Strong. He took a roundabout route to get there, but the shop steward with AFSCME NUHHCE District 1199C at Temple University Medical School is giving voice to others on the job and encouraging his coworkers to volunteer for labor walks to get out the vote.

A participant of one of the many AFSCME Strong trainings taking place around the country, Starchia has been involved in every weekend canvass since March to get his fellow AFSCME sisters and brothers out to vote in Philadelphia’s primary election on May 19.

Reflecting on his long march to union activism, Starchia says with pride, “I came from the potato fields to the tomato fields to the union hall.”

Born and raised in rural Virginia, Starchia, his mother and his two siblings lived on a farm they didn’t own, working the land to make ends meet. There was no bathroom in the house and they ate beans and biscuits five days a week. Chicken was a luxury.

At age six, Starchia began working in the fields, picking potatoes and tomatoes so that his family could afford enough money to move to Philadelphia where there was promise of better opportunity. “You’re not even in first grade, but you’re working,” he said, recalling his childhood.

“I remember my mother would hold her head down when talking to store owners,” he said. If she didn’t “bite her tongue” and spoke up about work conditions, she could be fired, Starchia added. Seeing that unjust dynamic between employer and employee as a young boy, Starchia promised himself that when he got older and began working, he would always be able to look his boss in the eye.

After moving to Philadelphia and completing the 10th grade, Starchia found a trade job as bricklayer in West Virginia through the Job Corps, which allowed him to get the equivalent of a high school diploma. But the seasonal work wasn’t enough to sustain a living. He later joined the Pennsylvania National Guard.

Honorably discharged after his service, Starchia worked multiple jobs as a housekeeper, cab driver and security guard in order to pay the bills. It wasn’t until he joined NUHHCE District 1199C in 1988, and the job at Temple University Medical School, that he finally found financial stability and the voice on the job he pledged to have when he was a young boy.

“If you don’t have a union and don’t have a contract, you don’t have a voice,” he said. “They pay you what they want, and they talk to you any kind of way.”

Through his contract, Starchia makes enough money to sustain himself and his family. He has health care and a pension for retirement, something his mother, who worked so hard to provide for him and his siblings, never did.

“We’ve got to fight for everything we have,” he says. “No one will give you what you deserve unless you stand together.”

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Wild! Reese Witherspoon Loves Us! http://www.afscme.org/blog/wild-reese-witherspoon-loves-us Fri, 15 May 2015 12:00:00 -0500 http://www.afscme.org/blog/wild-reese-witherspoon-loves-us You don’t have to be Legally Blonde to know public employees Walk the Line to make America happen!

Reese Witherspoon says it’s Municipal Worker Appreciation Day. AFSCME agrees.

Hollywood superstar Witherspoon gave public workers a big shout out this week on Twitter. She posed for a photo with one lucky city employee and called on her followers and fans to show their love for public workers by celebrating all that they do.

Witherspoon dubbed it Municipal Worker Appreciation Day and gave it the hash tag #MWAD. So go ahead and let Reese know we love the idea. Tweet out photos of the work you do or the work you appreciate public employees do every day.

Use the hashtag #MWAD, put your photo in the comment section of our Facebook page and we will send them to @RWitherspoon from the official AFSCME Twitter account.

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Atlantic City Council Forced to Kill Water Outsourcing Measure http://www.afscme.org/blog/atlantic-city-council-forced-to-kill-water-outsourcing-measure Thu, 14 May 2015 12:00:00 -0500 http://www.afscme.org/blog/atlantic-city-council-forced-to-kill-water-outsourcing-measure ATLANTIC CITY, N.J. – Confronted with community opposition, the Atlantic City Council rejected a measure that could have led to outsourcing municipal water services.

The council voted on May 6 to “reject the proposal in perpetuity” by a vote of 7 nays and one abstention. Councilman Aaron Randolph abstained, identifying a conflict of interest as an employee of the MUA.

Two weeks earlier, on April 22, community residents joined members of AFSCME locals 2646, 2302a and 3974 (Council 71) in a demonstration of overwhelming resolve to fight the outsourcing proposal. The council took notice and tabled the measure, which would have dissolved the Municipal Utility Authority (MUA).

“The two weeks that followed demonstrated a community – workers and residents together – that was determined to keep their elected officials from selling out their city,” said Mattie Harrell, Council 71 executive director and an AFSCME International vice president. “We reached out to workers at the MUA, and to community and religious groups to fight back.”

Atlantic City enjoys some of the highest quality and most affordable water in the state, said Harrell. “We have seen time and time again that when cities sell off their water services it means higher prices and lower quality services for residents. Now is not the time, when we are fighting to rebuild Atlantic City, to hit residents up with higher vital utilities,” Harrell told City Council members.

The packed City Council chamber on May 6 was a clear indication that the meeting would be contentious. City Council Pres. Frank Gilliam, who originally introduced the measure, assured the audience that the measure would be tabled permanently. That didn’t satisfy the residents, who demanded the lawmakers “Kill the bill” forever.

The council approved a provision stating that the outsourcing proposal should never be brought up again.

Since Hurricane Sandy devastated the coastal region, Atlantic City has suffered the closure of numerous high profile casinos and sits on the verge of bankruptcy. The AFSCME locals continue to look for ways to work with elected officials to rebuild the city.

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Fallen AFSCME Brothers Honored at Law Enforcement Vigil http://www.afscme.org/blog/fallen-afscme-brothers-honored-at-law-enforcement-vigil Thu, 14 May 2015 12:00:00 -0500 http://www.afscme.org/blog/fallen-afscme-brothers-honored-at-law-enforcement-vigil WASHINGTON, D.C. — Law enforcement officers from around the country came together in our nation’s capital this week to honor those who fell in the line of duty in 2014.

Among those whose names were added to the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial this year were three AFSCME members: Alaska State Trooper Gabriel “Gabe” Rich, Alaska State Sgt. Patrick “Scott” Johnson, and Albany, N.Y., Police Det. Douglas H. Mayville.

A candlelight vigil at the memorial was part of National Police Week, which draws as many as 40,000 attendees from around the United States to activities that honor law enforcement officers’ service and cultivate a spirit of brotherhood and sisterhood among them.

The memorial, located in the 400 block of E Street NW, saw the addition this year of 273 names of law enforcement officers killed last year. These join the more than 20,000 names on the memorial walls of officers killed serving their communities, dating back to 1791.

Jim Lyman, executive director of AFSCME Council 82 and a retired police detective from Albany, remembered Doug Mayville as a “stoic figure, with a hard shell and a soft inside, as long as you were able to get through that shell; a cop’s cop.”

Lyman said he worked with Mayville for 10 years and has been to National Police Week many times. It gets “harder and harder,” he said, every time he’s back.

Mayville died April 9, 2014, after a 26-year career. He suffered from Wegener’s granulomatosis, which was caused by long-term exposure to harmful chemicals in the department’s forensics lab. He was a member of AFSCME Local 2841, Council 82.

Sgt. Aaron Danielson of the Fairbanks International Airport Police and Fire Department, remembered Scott Johnson as “the trooper we all aspired to be.”

“He worked in the drug unit, he was a statewide K-9 instructor, he was part of the Special Emergency Response Team, he was just the best trooper around,” said Danielson, who is president of the Public Safety Employees Association/AFSCME Local 803.

This is the second year in a row that Alaska state troopers mourn one of their own during National Police Week. Last year, it was Tage B. Toll, an AFSCME member killed in a helicopter crash on March 30, 2013, after the successful rescue of a stranded snowmobiler. 

“It’s tough,” Danielson said. “But we’re a really close unit. We all came out in support of the troopers and their families, and the community came out, too. People started bringing in food for the troopers because they knew what they were going through.”

Gabe Rich, who was just 26 when he was killed, and Scott Johnson, were shot to death May 1, 2014, in the remote village of Tanana, 130 miles west of Fairbanks. They’d gone to arrest a local resident after a disturbance when the man’s son opened fire on them with a semiautomatic rifle. The older suspect has since been found guilty of evidence tampering, while his son awaits trial on murder charges.

AFSCME is a partner of the Memorial Fund. To donate, go to nleomf.org/AFSCME.

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N.Y. Mayor Sets Stage for Real Change in Washington http://www.afscme.org/blog/n-y-mayor-sets-stage-for-real-change-in-washington Tue, 12 May 2015 12:00:00 -0500 http://www.afscme.org/blog/n-y-mayor-sets-stage-for-real-change-in-washington By now everyone knows that our country has a problem with income inequality. It’s not just that economists are talking about it. Most American have noticed that good jobs are harder and harder to find and our wages don’t go as far as they used to, all while the Donald Trumps of the world keep pulling ahead.

But some of our political leaders are still pretending it isn’t true. They won’t take the common-sense steps that could keep the wealthy and well-connected few from grabbing a bigger piece of the pie and give working families a fair shot at the American Dream. It’s about time that we had a real plan to level the playing field for all Americans.

Members of Congress and labor leaders gathered at the Capitol today to stand with New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio as he unveiled what he calls his Progressive Agenda. It’s a 13-point plan to fix an economic system that is rigged against ordinary working people. It includes reforms that most people already want, like a higher minimum wage, free preschool for all children, and paid family leave for workers.

AFSCME Pres. Lee Saunders was there to address the importance of raising wages and reducing inequality through strong unions. “We support the Progressive Agenda because it will advance the principle that the working women and men who help create our America’s prosperity should share in America’s prosperity,” President Saunders told the crowd.

Big business insiders have been setting our national agenda for too long. But when working people unite around the issues we can all agree on, we have the power to turn things around. 

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NY School Bus Driver Honored for Safety Record http://www.afscme.org/blog/nyschoolbusdriverhonoredforsafetyrecord Tue, 12 May 2015 12:00:00 -0500 http://www.afscme.org/blog/nyschoolbusdriverhonoredforsafetyrecord Barbara DeLong, a school bus driver who cares deeply about the safety of the children in her care, was honored recently as the School Bus Driver of the Year by Dutchess County, New York.

DeLong, who has driven for the Arlington Central School District for 29 years, is a member of Civil Service Employees Association (CSEA)/AFSCME Local 1000. She received the award during a ceremony on April 15 at Arlington High School.

Awarded annually for the past 14 years, the Dutchess County School Bus Driver of the Year Award is meant to reward drivers with exemplary safety records. It is also intended to put a spotlight on a serious national problem – drivers who fail to stop when school buses stop to pick up children, even though the bus is displaying its extended stop sign.

A near-miss involving an SUV that failed to stop for a school bus last month in Graham, Washington, shown on media outlets nationwide, demonstrates the danger that school children face when they get on or off a bus. That’s why DeLong’s safety award is so important. It reminds drivers that they need to be especially careful when they see a stopped school bus with its red stop sign extended and lights flashing.

“Our children’s safety is our utmost priority and school bus drivers take their responsibility for children safety very seriously,” said Dutchess County Executive Marcus J. Molinaro at last month’s ceremony honoring DeLong. “Today we say thank you to all the bus drivers who transport our children with such care and remind drivers that they have also have an important role in bus safety. Always stop when the red lights are flashing on a school bus. The extra moment could save a life.”

Joining in the praise is CSEA Pres. Danny Donohue, also an International vice president. “School bus drivers do some of the most important work imaginable by transporting our children safely to and from school,” he said. “We are proud of their dedication and hard work and Barbara DeLong represents the very best of that service.”

The School Bus Driver of the Year Award is presented at the start of a Dutchess County Law Enforcement program called Operation SAFE STOP, whose goal is to remind drivers to exercise caution when approaching a school bus, and obey the flashing red lights when the bus is stopped to pick up students. During Operation SAFE STOP, law enforcement officers shadow school buses throughout the county to identify violators.

Congratulations to Barbara DeLong – and to all the other bus drivers who work hard every day to ensure that children get to school and home safely. They risk their lives – and sometimes sacrifice their lives – to save others. Such was the case of school bus driver Laura Zborowski, an Ohio Association of Public School Employees (OAPSE) union member killed last year in a terrible accident while trying to keep a child out of harm’s way.

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Insourcing Wins Continue for N.J. Local 2262 http://www.afscme.org/blog/insourcing-wins-continue-for-n-j-local-2262 Mon, 11 May 2015 15:12:00 -0500 http://www.afscme.org/blog/insourcing-wins-continue-for-n-j-local-2262 Members of AFSCME Local 2262 in Jersey City, New Jersey, have gained more than the trust of the local board of education. They’ve gained its admiration.

When students go on vacation this summer, AFSCME members who are tradesmen for Jersey City Public Schools will renovate two more school cafeterias, adding to an ever-expanding list of repair and maintenance jobs that have been insourced. These include electrical and plumbing repairs, carpentry, and renovation of cafeterias, libraries, classrooms, science labs and a swimming pool.

While many of these jobs were commonly outsourced to private contractors, Local 2262 members convinced the Jersey City Board of Education to allow them to do the work in-house. The city’s business administrator, a proponent of privatization, was originally skeptical. But AFSCME members persevered, insisting at every monthly board meeting that they could do the work better, faster and cheaper than private contractors. Given the chance to prove themselves, they made the most of it.

“The key is proving yourself,” said Bill Murawski, president of Local 2262. “And our members proved themselves. We did the work better and cheaper.”

Since the first major jobs were insourced in the summer of 2014, more doors have been opened. Local 2262 has established a good relationship with the board and the city’s business administrator. Mayor Steven Fulop also stood behind members.

Although fewer than 10 percent of the local’s members are tradesmen, their success has benefited public workers in general.

“It strengthens the whole bargaining unit,” said Steven Tully, associate director of AFSCME Council 52.

The effort to return these jobs to the public sector began in September 2013 when Local 2262 leaders participated in AFSCME International’s “Privatization Bootcamp.” Local 2262 members, working with AFSCME’s national staff, developed a plan to fight outsourcing and preserve public-sector jobs.

Its victories may well inspire AFSCME members nationwide to do the same.

Murawski said Local 2262’s victory over outsourcing has “opened more doors for our members to do the work. It’s also given credibility to the union. We showed that we could save the city money by doing the work better and cheaper, and we did it. It reflects well on public employees, and it shows that the answer is insourcing.”

Click here to learn more about AFSCME’s efforts to fight outsourcing.

 


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Law Enforcement Week Honors Public Safety Officers http://www.afscme.org/blog/law-enforcement-week-honors-public-safety-officers Mon, 11 May 2015 04:00:00 -0500 http://www.afscme.org/blog/law-enforcement-week-honors-public-safety-officers During National Law Enforcement Week (May 10-16), AFSCME is saluting the public safety employees who keep our communities safe. The commemoration is especially important this year when police officers are coming under fire for the actions of a few.

As AFSCME Pres. Lee Saunders reminded us recently in the Huffington Post, “our fight for justice and respect extends to all women and men who put themselves in harm's way every day, especially while in the line of duty as a law enforcement officer.”

In 1962, President Kennedy established National Police Week and National Peace Officers Memorial Day, a time to honor those law enforcement officers who have been killed in the line of duty during the previous year. AFSCME is proud to take part in this solemn event on behalf of the nearly 100,000 public safety officers in our union.

The National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial in Washington, DC is engraved with the names of more than 20,000 officers who have given their lives to serve the public. This year we will add the names of three AFSCME brothers who were tragically lost in 2014.

Alaska State Trooper Gabriel Rich and Sgt. Patrick Johnson were killed on May 1, 2014 in the isolated village of Tanana after a neighborhood disturbance turned violent. Detective Douglas H. Mayville of the Albany Police Department passed away on April 9, 2014 following exposure to dangerous chemicals in the department’s forensics lab. They, along with 271 others from around the nation and their families, will be honored in a wreath-laying ceremony on May 13.

You can contribute to the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund at by visiting this site.  

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