Thu, 20 Aug 2015 05:00:00 +0000 AMPS en hourly 1 AFSCME Blog Feed Recent posts on the AFSCME Blog. White House Spotlights Importance of Unions Thu, 08 Oct 2015 15:43:00 -0500 President Obama hosted a “White House Summit on Worker Voice” Oct. 7, which focused on the importance of unions in the modern economy, a welcome national spotlight that comes as more Americans say they approve of unions.

“It was heartening to hear many panelists today talking about the essential role that unions and collective bargaining play in fixing an economy that is badly out of balance, and improving incomes for all working people,” said AFSCME Pres. Lee Saunders, who attended the summit along with other labor leaders.

In his opening remarks, President Obama allowed that labor unions have been a driving force for progress in the United States. “The 40-hour workweek, overtime pay, health insurance, retirement plans.  The middle class itself was built on a union label,” he said. 

Obama linked the growing disparity between the rich and ordinary working Americans to the decline of unions, saying “in today’s economy, we should be making it easier, not harder, for folks to join a union.”

Eliot Seide, executive director of AFSCME Minnesota Council 5 and an International vice president, participated in a panel discussion at the summit and touted the importance of people coming together in a union. “Collective bargaining is the extension of democracy into the workplace,” he said. “Saying we don’t need union contracts to protect worker rights is like saying we don’t need the Constitution to protect civil rights.”

Obama also stressed the importance of collective bargaining, pointing out President Saunders and saying, “Lee likes to quote this – ‘If you’re not at the table, you’re on the menu.’ So we’ve got to get more working Americans to the table,” Obama concluded.

The White House underlined the importance of unions by releasing a new report by the Council of Economic Advisors, prompting economist Jared Bernstein to call for new policies that eliminate so-called right-to-work laws, make it easier for workers to organize in the “gig” economy, and strengthen the National Labor Relations Board.

UC Contractor Faces Overtime Probe Tue, 06 Oct 2015 12:00:00 -0500 BERKELEY, Calif. – A longtime custodial contractor at the University of California is being investigated by the U.S. Department of Labor after former and current employees alleged the company is denying overtime pay to employees who provide essential services at the California Memorial Stadium here.

Performance First Building Services has provided janitorial services at UC Berkeley for seven years. It came under investigation after employees told the Labor Department the company dodged overtime rules by issuing checks under two names for the same employee.

 “The majority of people were being paid under two names. I thought about reporting it. But at the same time I didn't want to, because I was scared,” Juliana Robles, a former Performance First employee, told the Los Angeles Times.

Though recent research has shown that UC is increasing its reliance on low-wage contractors to meet its permanent staffing needs — inviting more poverty and exploitation of communities of color — UC continues to turn a blind eye. The university even spent resources lobbying against equal pay — seemingly supporting a system in which employees work for years alongside full-time employees who are paid twice as much for the same jobs.

“As more of the abuses committed by UC private contractors against low-wage workers in the name of profit surface, it only highlights the need for legal protections that guarantee equal pay for UC contract workers, and the moral imperative of insourcing those contract workers who are already doing the work of permanent UC staff,” said AFSCME 3299 Pres. Kathryn Lybarger, also an International vice president.

AFSCME Local 3299 and allied students and community groups have been successful in getting the California Legislature to pass legislation that would guarantee contract employees are paid commensurate wages as career UC employees performing the same jobs. The bill awaits Gov. Jerry Brown’s signature.

AFSCME Mourns Loss of Wisconsin Leader Marty Beil Sat, 03 Oct 2015 14:40:00 -0500 The live, on-air interview with AFSCME union leader Marty Beil wasn’t even over and MSNBC host Chris Matthews could barely contain his glee.

“You look like the real thing to me sir, I’d like to meet you some time,” Matthews said.

Beil deflected the personal attention, and without hesitating pointed to the tens of thousands of protesters amassed behind him on the Wisconsin statehouse grounds.

“Chris, this is where democracy is,” Beil said with pride. “Right here. The people walking and the people talking.”

A grinning, impressed Matthews ended the segment with more praise. “This guy was great. I mean this is the kind of evocative leader you want to get (in) the labor movement.”

For thousands of families across Wisconsin and countless more across the nation, Beil was indeed the real thing. A fierce and courageous advocate for working people, he died at his home in Mazomanie, Wisc., Thursday at the age of 68.

Beil recently retired after more than 40 years as an AFSCME leader, culminating in his position as the executive director of the Wisconsin State Employees Union, AFSCME Council 24. He began his career in 1969 as a Wisconsin probation and parole officer. He quickly became active in the union, serving as president of his statewide local and a member of its bargaining team. In 1978, he was elected Council 24 president, a position he held until becoming the council’s executive director in 1985.

But it was during the 2011 protests ignited by Gov. Scott Walker’s vicious attacks on Wisconsin public workers that Beil was thrust into the national spotlight. From the steps of the statehouse, inside the rotunda, on television, and on radio airwaves, Beil rallied workers, students, retirees, and community allies to rise up in defense of workers’ rights. He helped light a spark that reignited the labor movement.

In turn, people across this nation joined together in defense of workers’ rights. Beil helped change the conversation about what it means to respect the dignity of working men and women.

Today, all public service workers in Wisconsin are unified in the newly formed Council 32. Public support for unions is at its highest levels since 2008, and Beil’s message of fairness for all working people is front and center in a national discussion of income inequality. Scott Walker was recently forced to abandon his campaign for president.

Pres. Lee Saunders honored Beil Friday and pointed to his influence not only on what happened in Wisconsin, but on the very infrastructure of labor activism in this country.

“A generation of labor activists learned from Beil and were inspired by his determination and unwavering courage,” Saunders said. “Their commitment and passion is his legacy. He backed up his words with actions. He never asked anybody to make sacrifices that he wasn’t willing to make himself. Today, our union is stronger than ever because of Marty Beil’s dedication and lifetime of service.”

Within his AFSCME family, Beil was regarded as a gentle giant: outspoken and pointed with foes of working men and women, but a soft-spoken mentor and friend to his union sisters and brothers, and colleagues. He is survived by his wife, Susan, his children, Natalie, Audra, and Nick, and his granddaughter, Trinity.

Even as he was retiring this summer, Beil remained committed to advancing the cause of working men and women in this country. It was his life’s passion, and that wasn’t going to end on his last day of work.

“I have a strong message,” Beil wrote in an email to his Wisconsin union family. “Workers will eventually prevail. Working families will once again set the agenda.”

Big Win: More Time with Family Thu, 01 Oct 2015 12:00:00 -0500 Just a few minutes’ drive from the banks of Florida’s Lake Okeechobee, Indiantown was founded as a trading post by members of the Seminole tribe living in the surrounding Everglades following the Third Seminole War.

While the railroad and horse racing changed the community when it was incorporated into the new Martin County in the 1920s, Indiantown remains a small town. But it is a small town with a big AFSCME voice.

That strong voice at work was helpful to Lynn Eastwood, a paraprofessional child care attendant at an adult learning center and an AFSCME Local 597 member for almost her entire 25-year career.

“I get to help parents support their families and further themselves by providing care for their children while they are completing courses for their GED or learning English,” said Eastwood. “Our community values family, it values the power of education and I love children. So it is the perfect spot for me.”

Recently, Eastwood got a new manager and a new work schedule that had her working seven and a half hours.

“My previous boss said that because of breaks I had to work eight hours if I wanted to be paid for a full day, seven and a half hours,” said Eastwood. “I love my job, I love what I do, but it seemed that something was wrong at some point so I quickly got my union involved.”

Although the staff is small, every eligible employee is an AFSCME member. So once the local’s president made inquiries with the Martin County School District, the response was quick – seven and a half means seven and a half, and they are going to pay her for the extra time she had worked before.

While the money will certainly be helpful to Eastwood, whose husband only recently was able to return to work, the most important aspect is the extra time she will get to share with her granddaughter, eight-year-old Isabella.

“Now I can pick her up a half hour earlier, and being able to have more time with her and for my family is the biggest win of all,” said Eastwood. “So you can be sure that I’ve been telling everyone that my voice at work was heard loud and clear thanks to AFSCME.” 






Gov. Rauner Threatens to Stop Health Care Payments Wed, 30 Sep 2015 12:00:00 -0500 After nearly 12 weeks of false bravado and bluster over negotiating a workable state budget, Illinois Gov. Bruce Rauner has stopped all payments to doctors, hospitals and others that provide health care to the more than 360,000 state and university employees, retirees and their families covered by the state’s insurance plan.

“The extent to which the situation prompts health-care providers to request or demand patients pay the entire cost of medical services up front remains to be seen,” the (Springfield) State Journal-Register  reported, “but it’s unprecedented for the state to stop paying claims, even temporarily, for large numbers of people.”

“The state has never said, 'We're not paying claims,' before,” said Anders Lindall, spokesman for AFSCME Council 31, which represents more than 40,000 state and university employees who participate in the health plan. 

Council 31 has filed suit seeking a court order to compel the Rauner administration to make the health care payments.

Social service groups are also sounding alarms that some services are at risk unless a budget deal is made soon. After-school programs for teens, early childhood intervention, autism assistance, domestic violence shelters and services, funeral and burial services for the poor, and programs to help parents prevent Sudden Infant Death Syndrome all may be suspended.

“It won’t be long before damage is longstanding,” said Emily Miller, policy and advocacy director for the nonprofit group Voices for Illinois Children.

The Rauner administration has denied that the threat of halting payments for health care was designed to put pressure on the General Assembly to adopt the governor's so-called "turnaround agenda," pro-business and anti-labor initiatives that he claims are needed for a budget to be finalized.

“It’s long past due for the governor to stop political posturing, drop his extraneous preconditions and get down to the work of developing a budget plan together with state lawmakers,” Lindall told the State Journal-Register.

Cab Drivers United/AFSCME Members Take a Stand Against Chicago Mayor’s Airport Plan Fri, 25 Sep 2015 12:00:00 -0500 Cab service at Chicago’s two major airports came to a halt for nearly two hours on Sept. 23 during a job action led by members of Cab Drivers United/AFSCME Local 2500. Their work stoppage was in protest to Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s proposal to allow Uber and Lyft access to the airports without having to follow rules governing taxi drivers.

“Uber provides the exact same service as licensed cab drivers, but nothing in the mayor’s proposal makes them play by the same rules we do,” said Cheryl Miller, a veteran Chicago cab driver and member of Cab Drivers United/AFSCME Local 2500.

Miller, among the licensed cab drivers who refused to pick up passengers at Midway and O’Hare airports, said they are required to go to school to receive their chauffeur’s license, undergo extensive background checks and drug tests, and their cabs are inspected twice a year by a city-approved garage. Not only does this reassure the public that the person driving them and the car they’re riding in are safe, it ensures the high level of professionalism the public has come to expect. The mayor’s proposal doesn’t include any of these provisions.

Godwin Anetekhai, a taxi owner/operator and member of Cab Drivers United, said AFSCME Local 2500 recently released a plan “showing how the city could raise $65 million a year just by making Uber follow the rules. Our plan would also provide concrete protections for good jobs and public safety. Instead, the mayor would give a sweetheart deal to a $50 billion corporation while hurting Chicago cab drivers who live and work throughout our city.”

Anetekhai added that licensed drivers “pay thousands of dollars in fees to stay in compliance each and every year” but that Mayor Emanuel’s proposal “would allow Uber to provide the same service I do, but without following the rules. It unfairly penalizes small business owners like me who work hard to build a business and contribute to our city.”

“Last year, drivers formed our union with AFSCME because our voices weren’t being heard by the city,” Miller added. “We took action today to send a strong message to Mayor Emanuel that our importance cannot be overlooked. We keep Chicago running, and it’s high time we’re treated with the respect we deserve.”

Earn While You Learn in Sacramento, California Fri, 25 Sep 2015 12:00:00 -0500 Apprenticeships are a win-win for workers and employers. They are a time-tested approach to training and developing skilled labor, and one solution for employers worried about finding and retaining quality workers.

And now, the state of California will reap the benefits as AFSCME Local 146 at the Sacramento Employment and Training Agency (SETA) launches a first of its kind apprenticeship this fall.

With no cost to participate, AFSCME members will earn while they learn at California State University, Sacramento (CSUS).  Successful completion of the program guarantees members step into the workforce development professional Level III position, which for many of the participants who are at the top of their current wage scale, would result in more than a 9 percent increase in pay.

“Apprenticeships are always more successful when there is an inter-agency effort in developing the program. In the case of this initiative, it was imperative that AFSCME, SETA, California Workforce Association (CWA), Department of Apprenticeship Standards (DAS), California Community College Chancellor’s Office, CSUS, and Butte County Office of Education (BCOE),  work together to create the best partnership possible,” said BCOE’s Stephen Wright.

For Local 146, the apprenticeship program is a big win.  Local 146 Pres. Belinda Malone states that AFSCME members are “stakeholders at the decision-making table.” AFSCME will have a voting seat on the oversight board for the program and apprentices going through the program will be part of the board as well.

In announcing the program, Local 146 SETA Chapter Pres. Jessica Rainey explains: “It has been so tough to have upward mobility. This is a pathway with guaranteed wage increases. Our union has fought and won this privilege for our members after two years of hard work and constant communication with management. The result is a wonderful opportunity for our members.”

Wright adds, “This apprenticeship program is going to be a model for other state agencies to follow. The directive from the governor’s office to implement apprenticeship in new settings has been answered and will be observed, very closely. It is a unique opportunity to help make organizations more efficient and more consistent, across the state, with their training programs.”


How Latinos Can Reinvigorate the Labor Movement Thu, 24 Sep 2015 12:00:00 -0500 At a time when many labor unions are seeking new members, Latino workers in the United States, especially immigrants, often find themselves voiceless. Hence, a new report suggests, “Latinos are perfectly positioned to join unions in large numbers.”

The report, released this week by the Labor Council for Latin American Advancement (LCLAA), declares that Latino workers “are currently the most vulnerable workers in the nation and need the protections and benefits that unions can provide.”

Latino men and women often labor in abusive work environments and have low-wage jobs. They are victims of the highest rates of minimum wage violations, a form of wage theft. They have the lowest levels of pension coverage and health insurance coverage. They too often are victims of sexual assault and child labor – some 600,000 children work in the fields today, according to the report.

“Unionization will provide this widely exploited population with a louder voice and protections to improve their working conditions and economic standing,” the report reads. “Widespread unionization of Latino workers can reinvigorate the labor movement while improving Latinos’ economic conditions through better jobs, higher wages and benefits.”

LCLAA is the foremost national organization for Latino workers. For more than four decades, it has worked to protect the rights of working Latinos and raise national awareness of the issues that affect Latino workers’ wellbeing.

The report, titled, “Latino Workers and Unions: A Strategic Partnership for America’s Progress,” notes that while unionization rates in the private sector have decreased for many years, the number of Latinos who joined the labor movement has increased.

LCLAA advises unions to reach out to Latino workers.

“If unions are to survive and rebuild in the near future, there is no doubt that Latinos and all minorities will have to join the labor movement,” the report states. “Latino engagement will be critical to recruiting more Latino workers into labor unions.”   

High Poverty Rate a Distress Call for More Worker Rights Tue, 22 Sep 2015 12:00:00 -0500 Every year, the federal government publishes a report on the number of people in our country who live below the poverty line. Last year, it was 46.7 million people – a country the size of Spain.

The report released last week shows that despite the economic recovery, our nation’s poverty rate at 14.8 percent is unacceptably high and remains stuck above pre-recession levels. It’s a reminder that not enough is being done to create an economy that works for all.

The poverty stats are also a reminder that those who would do away with government programs have it all wrong. In fact, without government assistance, the situation would be even worse. In 2014:

  • Social Security kept 25.9 million people out of poverty
  • Food stamps (SNAP) kept 4.7 million people out of poverty
  • Unemployment insurance kept just under 1 million people out of poverty

Right-wing extremists who wish to eliminate the social safety net are many of the same politicians who criticize labor unions. This is not a coincidence. It’s a proven fact that labor unions help raise wages not just for their members but for all workers in general. They help make the economy work for everyone, not just special interests or the wealthiest 1 percent.

In this sense, labor unions help pull families out of poverty and strengthen America’s middle class. They serve to balance the economy by improving economic mobility and reducing income inequality.

Corporate CEOs and special interests have manipulated the rules to make it harder for working people to join together, speak up and get ahead. At a time when many American families are struggling to make ends meet, we need more organized labor power, not less.

Paramedic Activist Seeks to Lift Up EMS Profession Tue, 22 Sep 2015 12:00:00 -0500 TOLEDO, Ohio — When California paramedic Jared Kirby heard about EMS professionals in Ohio organizing for better patient care and safety at LifeStar Ambulance, he was the first to volunteer his help. Kirby, an AFSCME Local 4911 member from Sonoma County, traveled all the way to Toledo to share his union experience with EMTs and paramedics uniting for a better future.

“I’m out here this week because they need a better work environment for themselves and their patients,” said Kirby. “Building our union is how we stop companies from taking advantage of our profession.”

Kirby began his EMS career eight years ago at a nonunion company and understands the importance of having a strong collective voice. Meeting with local paramedics and EMTs at informational meetings, in their homes, and over the phone, he spoke about the difference the union makes for their profession.

“At my first EMS job, we had no support system and little training,” he said. “Just by looking at our equipment, you could tell the company cared more about profit than patients.”

Kirby went on to work for American Medical Response and joined AFSCME in 2012. Earlier this year, he and his coworkers secured a union contract improving worker and patient safety by ensuring rest periods between work shifts.

“Our union is our voice,” said Kirby. “And that’s how we fight for the betterment of EMS as a whole and make it a respected public safety profession. We’re going to keep pushing until every EMS worker is well-rested, well-equipped and well-trained to provide the best patient care possible.”

A union election is underway for EMS professionals at LifeStar, and ballots will be counted on Sept. 30. If victorious, they’ll be joining more than 24,000 EMS professional across the country who have united with AFSCME.

Puerto Rico Members Visit DC to Seek Solutions to Fiscal Crisis Mon, 21 Sep 2015 12:00:00 -0500 A delegation of public workers from Puerto Rico, members of Servidores Públicos Unidos de Puerto Rico (SPUPR), AFSCME Council 95, visited Washington, DC, to meet with members of Congress and U.S. Treasury officials to discuss the fiscal and budgetary challenges faced by working people on the island. The delegation also urged Congress to increase the Medicaid contribution to Puerto Rico and eliminate caps.

AFSCME representatives of the island’s public workers have taken the lead in searching for a solution to the current fiscal crisis that prioritizes the wellbeing of working people and preserves the government’s essential services.

“The public sector is one of the most affected by the crisis in our country, so it is important that Congress hear this message from public workers,” said Annette González, president of SPUPR. “To us it is necessary and inevitable for the federal government to adopt a more prominent and supportive role for Puerto Rico.”

The delegation’s visit had the following goals:

  • Presenting to Congress and the U.S. Treasury the fiscal and budgetary challenges that Puerto Rico faces and how they are affecting those who count on public services and the workers who provide them.
  • Expressing opposition to government proposals aimed at eliminating fundamental labor rights such as the 8-hour work day, and attempts to reduce or eliminate the minimum wage and other labor standards.
  • Requesting that the percentage contribution the federal government gives to Puerto Rico under Medicaid be raised and the cap eliminated. Federal health programs are vital for Puerto Rico because of the high level of poverty on the island. Yet, Medicaid payments to Puerto Rico are lower than funds paid to states.

Also, members of the delegation told the personal stories of those who have suffered enormously from the crisis. “Our goal was to show the faces of those who are affected every day by erroneous decisions or the absence of decision making in addressing the crisis,” González said.

Treasury Department officials also met with Puerto Rico Gov. Alejandro Garcia Padilla, and on Sept. 17 urged Congress to provide Puerto Rico with legislation allowing the island to restructure its debts.

Meanwhile, upon their return, SPUPR members participated in a march defending labor rights.

For more information on the delegation’s visit and to see photos, please go to SPUPR’s Facebook page.

Right-to-Work Defeated Again in Missouri Mon, 21 Sep 2015 12:00:00 -0500 The Missouri Legislature could not muster the votes necessary to override Gov. Jay Nixon’s veto of a “right-to-work” bill, preventing the right-wing American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) from claiming a 26th state with the anti-worker law.

The 96-63 vote to override the veto fell 13 votes short, as legislators from both sides of the aisle sided with the labor movement against the attack from out-of-state special interests pushing the right-to-work scam.

Unions rallied in Jefferson City ahead of the vote, warning Republicans and Democrats alike that the right-to-work scam is nothing more than an attack on working families and that unions will stand up for the middle class.

The vote came the day after the Oregon Supreme Court ruled that a “right-to-work” ballot initiative specify in its title that workers who benefit from a union contract would avoid paying for the efforts to negotiate that contract – finally truth in advertising on so-called “right to work.”

While labor was successful in beating back the right-to-work scam in Missouri, the Legislature did manage to push through an anti-worker bill banning cities from raising the minimum wage above the state level of $7.65 an hour. Governor Nixon vetoed that measure but the Legislature overrode his action. Both the St. Louis and Kansas City councils had approved eventually raising their minimum wages above the state limit.

But unions could take comfort in how the right-to-work scam was being portrayed in Missouri newspapers. Just before the vote, the Kansas City Star editorial pointed out that ALEC lobbyists won support for the bill by wining and dining legislators. The editorial board urged lawmakers to uphold Nixon’s veto, saying:

“Missouri needs unions. At a time when hard-working people are demanding livable wages and a measure of security for their families, it should not become the 26th state to undermine collective bargaining.”

Pope Francis: Standing Up for Worker Justice Mon, 21 Sep 2015 12:00:00 -0500 I address a strong appeal from my heart that the dignity and safety of the worker always be protected.(4/28/13, Regina CÆLI Address)

Since he arrived at the Vatican in 2013, Pope Francis has established himself as a voice for the common man.  He devoted his first Easter Sunday address to the cause of dignity, safety and respect for working people. Now, one of the world’s most prominent advocates for worker justice is arriving in the United States to share his message with the American people.

Here’s what Francis has said about income inequality:

  • “While the income of a minority is increasing exponentially, that of the majority is crumbling. This imbalance results from ideologies which uphold the absolute autonomy of markets and financial speculation, and thus deny the right of control to States, which are themselves charged with providing for the common good.” (5/16/13)

Pope Francis knows that an economy that works only for a chosen few is unjust and indefensible. That’s why he has called for an economic system that values the dignity and work of all people:

  • “We must say ‘we want a just system! A system that enables everyone to get on.’ We must say: ‘we don’t want this globalized economic system which does us so much harm!’ Men and women must be at the center as God desires, and not money!” (9/22/13, Meeting With Workers in Cagliari, Sardinia)
  • “We can no longer trust in the unseen forces and the invisible hand of the market. Growth in justice requires more than economic growth, while presupposing such growth: it requires decisions, programs, mechanisms and processes specifically geared to a better distribution of income, the creation of sources of employment and an integral promotion of the poor which goes beyond a simple welfare mentality. (11/24/13, no. 204 APOSTOLIC EXHORTATION EVANGELII GAUDIUM)

Most importantly, the Pope knows that we need action. He has said that “a prophetic voice must be raised” and that working people everywhere must stand in solidarity to create a just system that works for everyone. This week, let’s take his message to heart.

Big Win for Largest U.S. Probation Department Thu, 17 Sep 2015 12:00:00 -0500 Los Angeles County Deputy Probation Officers Union (AFSCME Local 685) overwhelmingly voted in favor of a bargaining agreement Aug. 30 that will improve public and personal safety. For the nation’s largest probation department, it was a remarkable victory that strengthens the lives of working families in Los Angeles County.

“The deep and meaningful dialogue that took place over four months between Local 685 members and the [county] CEO and department representatives represents a significant improvement over the prior negotiating stalemates,” said Ralph Miller, president of Local 685 and also an International vice president. “We are extremely proud of what we have accomplished, but we recognize that this is a process and we do have further to go.”

The four-year agreement, which covers 3,800 employees in the Los Angeles County Probation Department and the Department of Children and Family Services, includes fair wage increases over the next three years, a special advanced educational degree bonus, increased number of sick days, increased uniform allowance and more – the result of four months of bargaining between Local 685 and county officials.

“I truly believe that the progress we have made is in no small part due to our members’ efforts to elect two new members (Supervisor Sheila Kuehl and Supervisor Hilda Solis) to the Board of Supervisors,” added Miller. “We have found an open ear to our goal of improving public and personal safety.”

Local leaders are confident the new agreement will significantly enhance public safety and bring 21st century methodologies into the department. The relentless pursuit to equip dedicated and professional employees to perform law enforcement duties in an outstanding manner, remain a top priority.

In a tribute to Local 685’s rich history, the tentative agreement was reached on July 16, Local 685’s 70th anniversary. The contract now goes to the Board of Supervisors for final approval.

Chicago, New Orleans Cabbies Join Global Uber Protest Thu, 17 Sep 2015 12:00:00 -0500 Hundreds of AFSCME-represented cab drivers in Chicago and New Orleans joined cab drivers from around the world Sept. 16 in a “Global Day of Action Against Uber” and other unlicensed rideshare taxi operations.

From Australia to Brussels to the United States, cab drivers are standing up and demanding fairness and pointing out how cities like Chicago are losing revenue by not regulating ridesharing services like UberX and Lyft the same way that licensed cab drivers are regulated.

Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel “is talking about cutting services and raising taxes and fees, but he’s missing a major opportunity to generate upwards of $65 million in new revenue” by not treating the rideshare services “like the taxi services they are,” said Cheryl Miller, a veteran Chicago cab driver and member of Cab Drivers United/AFSCME Local 2500.

Miller, like all other licensed cab drivers, must pay a fee annually to renew her license. She paid to take a chauffeur license, and would pay fines for violating rules governing her profession. “We would like to know why the city is allowing Uber and Lyft to do the same work and provide the same exact services without paying any of the same fees to the city, or following any of the same rules,” she said.

It’s the same for members of NOLA Cab Drivers for Justice/AFSCME Local 234 in New Orleans. “NOLA cab drivers are trying to protect the people we service,” said Niran Gunasekara, vice president of Local 234. “A lack of regulation and enforcement for rideshare organizations like Uber are unfair to the professional taxi drivers that serve New Orleans.”

Unlike New Orleans’ cab drivers, Uber and Lyft drivers do not pay licensing fees, undergo background checks or operate under the same high standards for their vehicles. As professionals, licensed taxi drivers are not only fighting for a level playing field, they are advocating for their passengers to ensure their safety, Gunasekara said.

Cab Drivers United/AFSCME Local 2500 member Macarl Johnson joins protest outside Chicago City Hall as part of a global day of action against Uber. Photo credit: David KreismanThat’s why the AFSCME-represented cab drivers were speaking out on the global day of action against Uber. They were supported in Chicago by people like Edelia Correa, a Communities United leader, as well as the “Fight for $15.” Correa delivered a letter to the mayor signed by more than 100 local businesses and community organizations, asking him to recognize the vital work that the city’s cab drivers perform.

“Politicians talk about ‘shared sacrifice’ but Uber isn’t sharing, they’re getting a free ride instead of paying their fair share,” said Correa.

Learn more about Cab Drivers United/AFSCME Local 2500 here, and check out this story about how they are working through their union to solve such issues as police harassment.

Read more about New Orleans Cab Drivers for Justice/AFSCME Local 234 here.

Journey for Justice Culminates with Capitol Hill Rally Tue, 15 Sep 2015 18:29:00 -0500 AFSCME is joining other unions and progressive organizations on Capitol Hill Wednesday morning for a rally and press conference calling for the restoration of the Voting Rights Act. The “Advocacy Day” in Washington, DC, is the culmination of a 1,000-mile Journey for Justice from Selma, Alabama, organized by the NAACP.

The goals of the Journey for Justice, besides ensuring unfettered voting rights, are a call for the right of everyone to a fair criminal justice system, sustainable jobs with a living wage and an equitable education system – with a unifying theme of “Our Lives, Our Votes, Our Jobs, Our Schools Matter.”

Marchers are converging Tuesday evening, Sept. 15, for an interfaith service and legislative teach-in at 7 p.m. at the Washington Hebrew Congregation, 3935 Macomb St. NW, in Washington. Rabbi Bruce Lustig, who serves this congregation, marched in several stages of America’s Journey for Justice, along with nearly 150 rabbis from around the country who carried the Torah from Selma.

The rally Wednesday morning, Sept. 16, begins at 9 a.m. at Upper Senate Park, 200 New Jersey Ave. NW in Washington. AFSCME members will be out in force in their green T-shirts.

AFSCME has urged passage of the Voting Rights Advancement Act of 2015 to undo the harm caused by a Supreme Court decision two years ago that gutted key provisions of the original Voting Rights Act.

“Fifty years ago, proud men and women in this country marched arm-in-arm, enduring vicious attacks, to ensure every citizen could vote,” AFSCME Pres. Lee Saunders said. “From their unwavering determination and sacrifice came the Voting Rights Act. AFSCME is committed to ensuring that our leaders in Congress today honor that sacrifice and protect the rights they secured for future generations.”

First Responders Urge Supreme Court to Play it Safe Tue, 15 Sep 2015 12:00:00 -0500 When our nation faces a tragedy, we depend on first responders and other public service workers to stand strong and help us through. We saw it 14 years ago, when our nation was attacked on Sept. 11, 2001. And we count on these same workers to be there for us and our communities as we face the future.

But some extremist politicians and corporate special interests are backing a Supreme Court case that would make it more challenging for public safety workers to speak up for one another and fight for the quality public services their communities rely on. Later this year, the Supreme Court is set to hear a case called Friedrichs v. California Teachers Association. This corporate-backed lawsuit aims to make it more difficult for all public service workers to stand together through strong unions.

On the anniversary of 9/11, AFSCME first responders around the country spoke up about how Friedrichs v. California Teachers Association could threaten the ability of firefighters, EMTs, paramedics and sworn law enforcement and corrections officers to band together to negotiate for better safety equipment, training and other tools that promote public safety and shorten emergency response times.

“If the Court rules against unions, public safety standards across America will be weakened,” Vincent Variale, FDNY medic and president of AFSCME Local 3621, wrote in an editorial last week. “Police, firefighters, EMS, and first responders won’t be able to push for life-saving equipment and shorter response times, and social workers won’t be able to push for better nurse-to-patient ratios.”

In New Mexico, several hundred workers gathered for AFSCME’s Public Safety Congress and urged the Supreme Court to decide in favor of strong unions when it hears the Friedrichs case. “Many of the safety measures, training mechanisms and equipment employed by corrections officers every day are a direct result of COs asking for it at the bargaining table,” said Sgt. John C. Hillyard, a corrections officer from Stillwater, Minnesota.

Public Safety Congress Gets AFSCME Strong Mon, 14 Sep 2015 12:00:00 -0500 ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. – Hundreds of AFSCME first responders gathered here over the weekend for the 2015 Public Safety Congress to discuss important issues regarding public safety, service and building power through AFSCME Strong

This was the first public safety conference that included AFSCME Emergency Medical Service employees and firefighters, and the three-day event kicked off Sept. 11 with a commemoration of the 14th anniversary of 9/11, with attendants paying tribute to the courage of first responders in the wake of the terrorist attack.

It was also the 35th anniversary of the deadly prison riot of the State Penitentiary in Santa Fe, where inmates went on a rampage, killing 33 prisoners and taking hostage and brutalizing more than a dozen corrections officers.

“Before the riot, COs repeatedly warned that conditions were dangerous,” Pres. Lee Saunders pointed out in his address to the Congress. “Nearly 1,200 inmates were housed in a facility designed for 900. Low pay and long hours meant high turnover. Procedures were constantly changed, but officers didn’t always get updated post orders. A riot control plan existed, but not all staff had it.

“Does any of this sound familiar?” President Saunders asked. “What happened in New Mexico in 1980 should serve as a warning.”

Sec.-Treas. Laura Reyes talked about the AFSCME public safety officers who had made the ultimate sacrifice in the line of duty last year – Alaska State Troopers Gabe Rich and Sgt. Scott Johnson, and Police Detective Douglas Mayville of Albany, New York – and the ceremony honoring them this year at the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial in Washington, DC. The names of corrections officers as well as police officers are etched on the wall.

“We will keep working to bridge the community divide – whether it’s here in New Mexico, in Baltimore, New York, everywhere that you protect lives,” she said. “Our towns and cities cannot survive without your steady hand, without your voice.”

Public Safety Congress participants were enthusiastic about the AFSCME Strong trainings in this year’s conference.  

“[AFSCME Strong] Is essential,” said Norma Traffie, a member of Local 3657 (Council 93) and civil clerk at the Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Department in New Hampshire. “We need to understand the attacks we’re facing, unify rather than divide ourselves, and remain committed as a union to protect our rights and fight for our families.”

Christopher Duffy, a corrections officer from Local 1772 (Council 3) in Maryland, said that AFSCME Strong was also about protecting the middle class. “We’re the biggest, baddest public-sector union in the country,” he said. “If we don’t fight for the middle class, there will be no middle class.”

First Responders Remember 9/11 Mon, 14 Sep 2015 12:00:00 -0500 ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. – Ray Ouellet, a Meriden, Connecticut, police officer and AFSCME Local 1016 (Council 4) member, recalls the horror of September 11, 2001 – first with TV images of the World Trade Center towers collapsing.

Officer Ouellet and three of his colleagues immediately drove through traffic and chaos into New York City, leaving their car, and hiking two and a half miles with their gear to Ground Zero. Sleeping on church steps after working through the night, Officer Ouellet spent six days digging through the rubble.

“I could not speak for three days, my lungs were so full of debris,” Officer Ouellet recalled, speaking to the AFSCME Public Safety Congress in Albuquerque on Sept. 11. “But we did it because we were called to – the same reason you do the work you do as police, fire, corrections or EMS. We did it because deep inside we have the desire to serve our communities, to be helpers, to make things better.”

At a ceremony here commemorating the tragedy, Pres. Lee Saunders recalled how AFSCME members in New York City came together that day.

“The toll was especially steep for members of DC 37 Locals 2507 and 3621,” said President Saunders, who was working out of the DC 37 office that day. “We were the 911 operators. We were the EMS officers, the EMTs and paramedics. We were the chaplains. The construction design managers, engineers, forensics teams and fire inspectors. We stood side by side with police officers and firefighters.

“We combed the rubble for survivors, delivered lunches and supplies. We came from all corners of the nation to help. And when it was clear there were no more survivors, we did recovery work, all the while exposed to a dangerous mix of toxins that are sickening and killing people to this day,” said President Saunders.

He urged the hundreds of Public Safety Congress convention attendees to contact their U.S. Senators and urge them to reauthorize the James Zadroga 9/11 Health and Compensation Act, which is set to expire in October unless Congress acts. Delegates immediately turned to their phones and sent the messages.

“AFSCME members have always understood the responsibilities we have to our communities,” Saunders said. “We fulfill them with pride and care. But on 9/11, we truly rose to the occasion – just as we do each time disaster strikes.”

Risks Come with Job, but She Loves Her Work Fri, 11 Sep 2015 12:00:00 -0500 Image from KIMA-TV report show SWAT team on police line during standoff.

Image from KIMA-TV report shows SWAT team on police line during standoff.

Lisa Tavarez, a community corrections specialist and member of Washington Council 28 Local 308, never knows what she’ll face when she’s on the hunt for suspects, and she’s had many close calls over the years. But on Sept. 3, she had the closest call of her 14-year career.

Her experience is a reminder of the risks AFSCME members in public safety take daily. Many are in Albuquerque, N.M. attending the AFSCME Public Safety Congress.

According to news reports, Tavarez was part of the Pacific Northwest Violent Offender Task Force that went to a Yakima, Washington, house looking for a drive-by shooting suspect. They were at the door when the suspect, Erick Romero, opened fire. Tavarez, a community corrections specialist, was grazed on the hip, according to The Yakima Herald-Republic.

The shooting provoked a 90-minute standoff that eventually involved the Yakima SWAT team. Romero surrendered and is in jail with bail set at $5 million.

“I have had close calls before,” says Tavarez, who can’t give specifics about the incident because it remains under investigation. “I’ve had to wrestle a gun away from someone, and I’ve taken guns on pat-downs. But I’ve never been shot at. Thank goodness, the bullet didn’t go through. It just left a massive bruise.”

Tavarez credits the police officers, sheriff’s deputies and U.S. Marshals who serve on the task force with her for bringing what could have been a tragedy to a successful end.

“The team I was with, their bravery outweighs anything I could have imagined. When people hear ‘Officer down,’ regardless of what has happened, they have to stay in the fight, they can’t leave their positions. My team did just that, and they are heroes to me,” she says. “Of course I’ve had a few tears, but at the end of the day, we’re all safe and the guy’s behind bars.”

Despite the hazards, Tavarez, a military veteran who spent 13 years in the U.S. Navy, says she’d never consider anything else.

 Community Corrections Officers of Council 28 badge“I absolutely love what I do, and I love my colleagues. I’m very proud of our work.”

She began working for the Washington Department of Corrections as a community corrections officer, working mostly with parole violators. Sometimes she was able to get through to them and they turned their lives around. But the “clients” she comes into contact with now “are not so ready to change,” she jokes.

Tavarez, 46, went through the police academy and worked with the Seattle Police Department before going to Yakima. She pursued a career in public safety because so many of her relatives back home in Jersey City, New Jersey, had run-ins with the law.

“I just wanted a career where I could help people,” she says.

Off the job, Tavarez helps her union sisters and brothers by getting them up to speed on the contract. She likes mentoring new employees and telling them about how Council 28 fights for fairness.

“As a union we let management know that we do have rights,” she says. “That we are people, not machines, and we deserve to be treated with respect. Without the union, our world would be very, very different.”

Council 28 staff this week kicked off a plan to  mobilize members through AFSCME Strong to become an even more effective voice for members like Tavarez, and for working families throughout Washington.

Campaign Helps Reduce Violence in Minnesota Hospitals Fri, 11 Sep 2015 12:00:00 -0500 Clocking in should never mean putting your life on the line.  Getting hurt should never be part of anyone’s job description.  That’s the bottom line for AFSCME Council 5 members who work in state-run mental health facilities in Minnesota.

Fed up with management’s lip service, workers escalated their campaign for workplace safety. 

“We’ve been taking a beating,” says Jackie Spanjers, an LPN and president of Local 1307 at Anoka Regional Treatment Center. “Patients spit on us and chase us with weapons.  They kick us, punch us, choke us and bite us.  They throw dangerous fluids on us – urine, feces, hot coffee and boiling bacon grease.”

Those injuries – and hundreds more – are documented on Safe Staffing MN, a Facebook community where workers share their stories and unite efforts to improve safety. Their high-profile media campaign exposed problems that supervisors wanted to keep secret. They got the attention of Gov. Mark Dayton and, with his support, claimed several early victories.

AFSCME Council 5 also increased public awareness with informational rallies. Here is what they’ve achieved since the Facebook postings began:

  • Jaime Tincher, chief of staff to Governor Dayton, joined AFSCME Council 5 representatives in a July 21 tour of the Minnesota Security Hospital in St. Peter. In a statement afterward, she said, “We owe it to these staff members to do everything we can to ensure their safety. …We will work even more intensively with everyone at this facility, local law enforcement, and legislators, to ensure the successful management of this important program.”
  • Local 404 leaders at St. Peter Security Hospital won a new law making it a felony for a patient to assault workers in a state hospital, a law that has already been applied. They filed an OSHA complaint and forced the state to negotiate an injury reduction plan. They also secured $10.4 million to hire 20 new security counselors and construct safety improvements at their facility.
  • AFSCME Local 1307 leaders went straight to the top of the Department of Human Services.  Four days later, Commissioner Lucinda Jesson capped admissions at Anoka Regional Treatment Center, giving understaffed workers relief from mandated overtime.
  • Local 607 leaders are now invited to do a safety inspection before a new group home opens. They flag hazards, like glass shower doors that violent clients could break to injure themselves and staff.

Spanjers, and Tim Headlee, president of AFSCME Local 404 and a security counselor at the Security Hospital, are two key union leaders who pressed for more staffing and safety improvements.

Headlee said attacks on hospital security personnel increased significantly after the settlement of a lawsuit in 2011, limiting the use of patient restraints. As a result, attacks on Security Hospital staff, alone, more than doubled since 2011. “It’s kind of frightening because we’re the last stop in the chain of mental health facilities,” he said. “There’s nowhere else to go” for these violent patients.

Frontline workers are demanding better training for physical encounters, permission to use mobile restraints that prevent patients from kicking and swinging, and an admissions unit where new patients are assessed before being placed with other patients and staff.

“We’ve raised our voices,” says Spanjers. “Our solutions aren’t falling on deaf ears anymore."

Having a Union Means Never Being Alone Fri, 11 Sep 2015 12:00:00 -0500 What is the feeling you get when you show up to work one day and you are called into an unscheduled meeting in the conference room? You walk in and see management sitting across the table with expressions that indicate this meeting is not going to go well.

It is a feeling of fear for what’s about to come next, a feeling that you may have to be fighting back against something you don’t fully understand.

But for Mary Hill, a Miami-Dade County animal services worker, being a member of AFSCME Local 199 meant that when this happened to her recently she never once felt alone. That is because also in the room was her union representative, Se’Adoreia “CeeCee” Brown.

Just over two months after she met with managers about how to improve operations, she and a coworker were told that their positions were being eliminated.

It was a shock to Hill, who has been an AFSCME member almost her entire 24-year career. At first, she took it personally, given all she and her coworkers do every day.

“There were a lot of tears at first because something like that happens and you think, OK, what now, how do I cover my bills, how do I have health insurance?” said Hill, who has been a leader in her department for years. “But CeeCee was there to calm us down and to work with us to fight back.”

Working together with Brown, Hill went through her contract and found a clear path to save her job even if her position was going to change. Management had been meeting for almost a year on ways to reorganize the department, but had only contacted AFSCME when it was time to tell members who were going to be laid off – a clear violation of the contract.

They took their issue straight to the mayor’s office and made it clear that this was a job that was not going to be cut, and they won. It was another in a string of victories for Local 199 that members are feeling at the worksite and in their paychecks.

“I’ve built a job into a career thanks to AFSCME, and when it looked like it was going to be taken away from me, I know I didn’t have to go through this fight alone,” said Hill.  


Contract Oversight is $1.25 Million Payoff Thu, 10 Sep 2015 12:00:00 -0500 District 1199J, NUHHCE/AFSCME, representing 500 Hudson County (New Jersey) Service and Maintenance workers, reached a settlement with the county that will mean big increases in many paychecks.

The $1.25 million settlement resulted from language in the 2005 collective bargaining agreement that guaranteed minimum step increases for entry level employees, providing a bump in pay for 216 members. When the contract was drafted the new minimum step increases were not reflected in the pay rate charts, an oversight that meant many workers were unaware they were due a raise.

Annual pay increases from $1,000 to $9,000 began in August. Retroactive pay from 2011 will be paid in two installments, in December 2015 and later in 2016.

“When I received the call from an 82-year-old member, who I had worked with as her staff representative years ago, she expressed her concern about her low pay,” said Susan M. Cleary, president of District 1199J, NUHHCE/AFSCME. “She couldn’t identify why she felt she was underpaid given her over 30 years of service. So, I looked into it.

“Once we discovered the oversight and began to understand the true impact it would have on the membership, we notified the county and immediately started to negotiate a resolution,” Cleary said.

Part of the settlement includes payments to two deceased members’ estates. District 1199J continues to push for the inclusion of retirees in the settlement. The union will not withdraw its arbitration on this issue until all workers are made whole.

The settlement represents an important win for Hudson County employees, but reminds us about the importance of reading and understanding our contracts.

“These hard-working women and men deserve what is due them and the county is keeping up their end of the bargain,” concluded Cleary.

Study: Unions Boost Economic Mobility Thu, 10 Sep 2015 12:00:00 -0500 When it comes to reaching for the American Dream, those who live in states and communities where unions are strong are more likely to have a chance to move up the economic ladder than those who don’t, according to new research released this week by the Center for American Progress (CAP).

We’ve known that the growing gap between the wealthiest 1 percent and the rest of us holds back the economic recovery from the Great Recession. But this report puts a finger on some of the key reasons why people have had a hard time climbing the economic ladder, and the decline of unions is among the most important.

The report notes that the nation today “has less [economic] mobility and fewer opportunities when compared to other advanced economies. A U.S. child born in the bottom 20 percent of the income distribution, for example, has a 7.5 percent probability of reaching the top 20 percent as an adult, compared to 11.7 percent in Denmark and 13.4 percent in Canada.”

Looking at the data, the economists who wrote the CAP report show that “low-income children rise higher in the income rankings when they grow up in areas with high-union membership.” In fact, according to the report, “a 10 percentage point increase in union density is associated with a 4.5 percent increase in the income of an area’s children.”

This should not be surprising, as collective bargaining is the foundation for building a strong middle class. This new report looks at some of the reasons why and concludes that, especially among families headed by low-skilled workers, union membership makes a significant difference in the ability of their children to rise out of poverty.

Part of the reason, the report suggests, is that union members “make more money than comparable nonunion workers – what economists call the union premium—and when parents make more money, their children tend to make more money.”

In addition, the report says, “union jobs may be more stable and predictable, which could produce a more stable living environment for children, and union jobs are more likely to provide family health insurance.”

Even for nonunion workers, living in communities or states with strong unions is a benefit: “It has been shown that unions push up wages for nonunion workers, for example, and these wage gains for nonunion members could pass on to their children,” the report said.

The report was written by Harvard University economist Richard B. Freeman; Eunice Han, professor of economics at Wellesley College; David Madland, managing director for economic policy, CAP, and Brendan V. Duke, a policy analyst for CAP’s Middle-Out Economics project.

Finding Opportunities in One-on-One Conversations Wed, 09 Sep 2015 15:58:00 -0500 Judy Kuschel believes that if her fellow AFSCME members in Washington state knew more about how our union works, they would be more likely to become union activists.

It starts with the realization that we as union members are the union.

That’s why as president of AFSCME Local 313 (Council 28) and a graduate of the AFSCME Strong program, Kuschel is doubling down on a strategy that has long worked for her union and will help reach its goal of educating every member about its work: the one-on-one conversation.

The AFSCME Strong program emphasizes individualized conversations with our coworkers as the main vehicle for communicating the importance of union activism, standing up for our rights in the workplace, protecting our salaries and benefits, and moving forward together towards a better future for us and our families. Kuschel says the one-on-one conversation is the right approach.

“Talking to members one-on-one is the single most important thing we do,” she says. “Because most of our members don’t really understand what our union does.”

Most of our union’s work gets accomplished behind the scenes, she says.

“We’re doing a lot of things in a lot of places, and the challenge is getting people to know about all the work we’re doing,” she explains.

Kuschel is a community corrections specialist in Vancouver. She has been an AFSCME member for 18 years and became more active in her union as her children grew up. Local 313 represents 600 to 700 workers in community corrections, child protective services and other areas.

Kuschel also sits on the AFSCME Corrections United steering committee and has participated in the AFSCME Strong training not once but twice. She has embraced our union’s effort to grow our union stronger, expand membership and engage our co-workers in the fight, one conversation at a time.

“The more we learn about our members the more we can be responsive to their needs,” she says.

She and her fellow union members are incorporating internal organizing into every union activity.

“We’re trying to make it a part of everything we do,” Kuschel says. “It isn’t a separate activity. If we have a meeting and there are some people there who haven’t been assessed, we have that conversation with them. When we have our trainings, we have one-on-one conversations. The mistake is thinking that organizing is a separate activity. Every time we have a win or an event, it’s an opportunity to share the value of our union.”