Thu, 20 Aug 2015 05:00:00 +0000 AMPS en hourly 1 AFSCME Blog Feed Recent posts on the AFSCME Blog. Child Care Services Are Worth a Living Wage Sun, 01 May 2016 10:00:00 -0500 Can you put a price on the safety, happiness and education of a child? Child care is an absolutely critical service. The women and men who do this kind of work aren’t just part of our economy, they’re part of our families and communities.

But wages for child care providers aren’t in step with the value of the work they do. Hourly wages in the child care sector are just $10.31, which is 39 percent lower than the national average for hourly earners. One in seven child care providers lives in a household with an income below the poverty line. The cost that parents pay for child care has skyrocketed in the past 25 years, but real wages for the workers who spend time with our children haven’t risen at all.

That’s why we recognize May 1 as Worthy Wage Day. Since 1992, on this day, child care providers and their allies advocate for better wages and working conditions. This is a problem that must be addressed at every level. State programs are underfunded, labor laws have historically undermined the value of child care workers, and our culture does not always recognize the importance of child care services.

AFSCME represents thousands of child care workers who devote their careers to enriching the lives of children. We stand in solidarity with our sisters and brothers as they call for respect and a living wage. 

AFSCME Couple to Celebrate 14 Years of Love at Convention Thu, 28 Apr 2016 18:48:00 -0500 Cindy and Doug Cook couldn’t be more excited about attending AFSCME’s 42nd International Convention in Las Vegas this July.  Not only because they’ve been AFSCME members for a combined total of more than 60 years. And not just because they’re big believers in what workers can achieve when they stand together, even in the face of a great challenge. Their trip will be unique for a very personal reason. 

Cindy and Doug met at the AFSCME International Convention in Las Vegas in 2002. They were married in Las Vegas in 2006. So this year they’re going back to celebrate the 14th anniversary of their meeting and their 10th wedding anniversary. Their union was “literally union-made,” they say, and they are looking forward to sharing this special moment with their AFSCME sisters and brothers.

How they met

On the Sunday before Convention 2002, Doug was swimming in the pool at the Paris Hotel when he first set eyes on Cindy. “I saw this beautiful girl sitting by the pool, dangling her feet in the water,” he says. “So I swam up to her and we started talking.”

“We clicked immediately,” Cindy recalls, “and we ended up talking for over two hours. He made me feel like I had known him all my life.” 

At the time, Cindy was an employee of the City of Erie, Pennsylvania, and president of AFSCME Local 2206 (Council 13). Doug was (and still is) an equipment operator for Thurston County, in Olympia, Washington. He’s also a member of AFSCME Local 618 (Council 2), where he has served as vice president. Though they came from opposite sides of the country, they had much in common, including their union activism. They spent the rest of the week together, attending convention activities and getting to know each other. 

“It was then that our friendship was born,” Cindy says.

They never quit on each other                                                                                                                                                  

Love in the UnionAfter the 2002 Convention, Doug and Cindy went back to their respective homes. For the next three-and-a-half years, they did the “East Coast/West Coast thing,” as Cindy puts it.  At first, they visited each other in Las Vegas, then Doug visited Erie. Cindy then visited Olympia. Through 2005 they spent all of their vacation time traveling back and forth.

“When we weren’t together, we spent hours on the phone,” Cindy recalls. “It was crazy because we both realized we had found something completely unexpected and extremely rare and special.”

Their love for each other resulted in the decision to spend the rest of their lives together. “It was frightening to leave my family and friends, which I will always miss,” Cindy says, “but it turned out to be the best decision of our lives. We’ve never been happier.”  Cindy found a job with the Washington State Department of Ecology and, within one month, moved to Washington. They bought a house and married on Feb. 19, 2006. She is now a member of AFSCME Council 28.

Going Strong

While the past 10 years have been full of happiness, the couple has not been free from struggle. In 2012, Doug was diagnosed with a type of cancer called non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. For the next six months, he would have to undergo chemotherapy at the University of Washington in Seattle, 60 miles away.  

“Going through something like that changes your whole outlook on life,” Cindy says.  “Going through this struggle made us stronger and drew us even closer together.”

“How Cindy stuck with me was remarkable,” Doug says. “She was by my side at every appointment, every test, and every session of chemotherapy.”

Thanks to her union contract and her co-workers, Cindy was able to use shared leave on the days that Doug was being treated. It’s what allowed her to be by Doug’s side.  “It was so important for me to be with him,” she says, “because we had no idea what the future held for us.”  

“Cindy was unbelievable,” Doug says. “Her love and support is why I’m here today.”

Workers Memorial Day: Fighting for the Living Thu, 28 Apr 2016 09:00:00 -0500 We go to work every day to make a living — but all too often, the workplace takes lives instead. Today is Workers Memorial Day, a time to reflect on the working women and men who were killed or injured on the job.

Thanks to the efforts of advocates and activists in the labor movement, workplace safety has improved considerably in recent decades. We lobbied for laws and negotiated collectively for contracts that require protective equipment and thorough safety procedures. But the battle isn’t over.

In 2014, the most recent year for available statistics, more than 4,800 working people died as the result of workplace accidents and injuries, and another 50,000 died from diseases caused by workplace exposure. That’s 150 lives lost every day as the result of unsafe working conditions. (This is the highest annual total since 2008.)

Some workers are at higher risk than others. Latino workers, particularly those who were born outside the United States, are more likely to be injured or killed on the job than the general population.  In 2014, 748 Latino workers died as the result of workplace injury.

As public sector employees, AFSCME members are also at particular risk. Federal OSHA standards do not cover many state and local government workers, and public sector employees are 56 percent more likely to be injured on the job than our private-sector counterparts. Although some states have state OSHA laws that protect public sector workers.

It’s up to all of us to make sure our workplaces are safe and healthy. We need strong contracts, comprehensive laws and co-workers who are willing to speak up when they see potential dangers. Let’s put an end to these preventable tragedies.

Splash Medics Continue Mission to Prevent Child Drownings Wed, 27 Apr 2016 12:17:00 -0500 RIVERSIDE COUNTY, Calif. – Splash Medics has provided life-saving water safety tips to more than 2,000 children since AFSCME Local 4911 members founded the nonprofit in 2015. The group plans to visit another 50 schools this summer and release a children’s book, Toby the Dolphin. This is just part of their effort to reduce the high number of water-related injuries and deaths in their county.

“We’ve had a lot of drownings this year already, and this month there were two kids that drowned in one weekend,” said Paramedic Lisa La Russo, a member of AFSCME Local 4911. “We are working to get education to every school, parent and child.” 

Drowning is the leading cause of death for children under five, according to Riverside County Injury Prevention Services. This statistic is no surprise to the front-line Emergency Medical Technicians (EMTs) and paramedics who often respond to emergencies involving children, and many of which are preventable water-related incidents.

Several members of Local 4911 have volunteered with Splash Medics to educate the public on the importance of water safety. EMT Fawn Lawson-Huntington was recently featured on CBS Local 2. "We're teaching kids to always swim with a buddy, always have a grown-up watching, no running, and wear your life vest,” Lawson told reporter Laura Yanez.

“It only takes seconds for a child to drown,” Lawson-Huntington added. “And I know how tempting the cell phone is, but even in the moments that you’re answering a phone call [or] scrolling through Facebook, a child could drown.”

These tips are highlighted in their upcoming children’s book, Toby the Dolphin and Water Safety. Splash Medics will read their book to school children at Amelia Earhart Elementary School in Indio, Calif., on May 4 at 9 a.m.

Click here to make a contribution to Splash Medics.

At Lebanon Correctional Institution in Ohio, 100 Percent AFSCME Membership Tue, 26 Apr 2016 18:00:00 -0500 As a correctional officer at the Lebanon Correctional Institution, about 30 miles from Cincinnati, Phil Morris knows that safety and security means having someone to watch your back. That’s the way it is with the members of his union, Ohio Civil Service Employees Association/AFSCME Local 11.

They are stronger because they’re united, watching out for one another.

“We’re what actually protects our membership from wrongdoing or harm from management,” explained Morris, president of OCSEA Chapter 8310, which represents approximately 300 employees at Lebanon, a Warren County facility operated by the Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction.

So it should be no surprise that when Morris participated in an AFSCME Strong blitz in early April – having one-on-one conversations with other officers in his unit – all but the six new hires were already members of his union. The new hires all signed up.

“We’ve maintained 100 percent membership at my institution,” Morris said. “Fair share is really not an option. We’ve never had anyone who said, ‘I want to be fair share.’”

Two officers who happened to be fair share (and who worked a different shift than Morris), became members during the blitz.

Having one-on-one conversations with his fellow union members was an exercise in building unit cohesion. “They were committed,” he explained, “but I wanted to get back to the roots of what we are, and we are the grass roots. A lot of time that gets forgotten. Sometimes, we have to get back to the basics and let folks know we are here – that we do have our fingers on the pulse, and we do care. We want to know what’s up with you.”

What’s up with the officers in his unit has a lot to do with being safe in an inherently dangerous environment. A security staff of approximately 350 is responsible for maintaining the peace in an institution that houses 2,478 inmates.

Morris has worked there nearly 12 years – his first union-represented job. He works the first shift, lasting from 6 a.m. to 2 p.m. With much gang activity to watch out for, safety is always on his mind. “At the end of the day, we want to be able to walk out the same way we walked in – on both feet,” Morris said. “We are surrounded by folks who have nothing but time.”

During the two-day AFSCME Strong blitz, Morris and other members reached out to more than 200 members to conduct “assessments” – holding one-on-one conversations about issues that concerned them. Not unexpectedly, many of those conversations involved the state’s efforts to sell state-run correctional facilities to for-profit companies.

“Gov. Kasich had already put five prisons up for sale in his first term as governor of Ohio,” Morris said. One was later sold.

“They’ve already privatized our food service with Aramark,” he added. Inmate medical care is also heavily outsourced. “What they say is that it’s to save money, but in our eyes it’s to cut corners. You get what you pay for.”

The conversations also turned to more positive subjects, particularly education benefits provided through OCSEA. Partnering with a community college, the union is able to provide a program that provides free college education to eligible members who are accepted into the school. Vision and dental insurance are other benefits that he discovered “a lot of them either didn’t know about, or forgot.”

The AFSCME Strong blitz “is a good grass-roots campaign,” he said. “It was good to get out there to talk to the folks, one-on-one, and not being made to feel they were being pressed for information. It was good to revisit some of the things we don’t talk about enough. We wanted to make sure their voices were heard.”

He said the members also appreciated the interest he showed by asking about their concerns. “They enjoyed that casual, if not intimate, experience of being able to talk without being pressed or put on the record,” he said. “Candid would be the better term.”

As a correctional officer, Morris will never quit caring for the women and men who work with him, making sure they’re safe. Nor will the two-term chapter president ever quit on his union, whose members depend on one another to build strength in the workplace.

“One common thread they all agree on is having a voice in the workplace,” he said. “They know that we are there, and we’re there to help.”

Prince Was a Champion for Working People Tue, 26 Apr 2016 10:25:00 -0500

The world lost a musical icon last week. You’ll read about his impact as a musician and an entertainer elsewhere, but let’s take a second to look at Prince’s career-spanning fights on behalf of working people.

For more than 40 years, Prince was a union member, a long-standing member of both the Twin Cities Musicians Local 30-73 of the American Federation of Musicians (AFM) and SAG-AFTRA. Beginning with “Ronnie Talk to Russia” in 1981 on through hits like “Sign o’ the Times” and later works like “We March” and “Baltimore,” Prince’s music often reflected the dreams, struggles, fears and hopes of working people. (And he wasn’t limited to words, his Baltimore concert in the wake of Freddie Gray’s death raised funds to help the city recover. I got to sit on the right side of the stage, high in the rafters, to watch joyously.) Few of America’s artists have so well captured the plight of working Americans as Prince, putting him in the line of artists like Woody Guthrie and Bruce Springsteen as working-class heroes.

Ray Hair, president of AFM, spoke of Prince’s importance: “We are devastated about the loss of Prince, a member of our union for over 40 years. Prince was not only a talented and innovative musician, but also a true champion of musicians’ rights. Musicians—and fans throughout the world—will miss him. Our thoughts are with his family, friends and fans grieving right now.”

And this is a key part of his legacy. Prince was deeply talented and could have easily made his success without much help from others. And yet he was a massive supporter of other artists, from writing and producing songs for artists as diverse as Chaka Khan, the Bangles, Sinéad O’Connor, Vanity, Morris Day and the Time and Tevin Campbell (among many others) to his mentoring and elevating of women in music, to the time where he put his own career on the line in defense of the rights of artists. And every musician that came after owes him a debt of gratitude.

The music industry has a deeply troubled past, with stories of corporations exploiting musicians, especially African American musicians, being plentiful enough to fill libraries. At the height of his popularity, Prince decided that he would fight back. He was set, financially and career-wise, and had nothing to gain from taking on the onerous contracts that artists were saddled with when they were young, inexperienced and hungry. If he lost everything by taking on the industry, he still had money and fame to rely on. But he knew this wasn’t true for many other musicians, and Prince was always a fan of music, and he knew that taking on this battle would help others. So he took on the recording industry on behalf of music. On behalf of the industry’s working people—the musicians themselves.

And it cost him his name and his fame.

In the ensuing battle, Prince famously renounced his birth name and began performing under an unpronouncable symbol instead of a name. He fought the company at every turn, even writing the word “slave” on his face in protest of the conditions he worked under. He said: “People think I’m a crazy fool for writing ‘slave’ on my face. But if I can’t do what I want to do, what am I?” For the rest of his career, which never recovered to his early heights, he continually fought to change the way that record companies treated artists, explored new ways to distribute music to fans and battled to give artists more control and more revenue for the art they create. In a still-changing musical landscape, Prince was one of a handful of artists who helped shape a future where musicians, working people, get the fruits of their labor.

In honor of Prince’s passing, check out his performance, an all-time great, at the country’s largest annual event brought to you by union workers, the Super Bowl.

Would You Like Ribs or a Hot Dog with Your AFSCME Strong? Mon, 25 Apr 2016 13:00:00 -0500 MIAMI – While much of the country starts to shed the winter layers, the mild April weather in South Florida proved the perfect temperature for a picnic uniting AFSCME members across Miami-Dade County

Spearheaded by five locals but inclusive of all AFSCME members, retirees and their families, the picnic included a DJ, raffle, bounce castles, games and playgrounds to keep folks moving and entertained. There were tables set up to register voters, and for members to join or increase their contributions to AFSCME’s political, grassroots lobbying and fundraising arm, known as AFSCME PEOPLE.

They even had an opportunity to adopt a pet, thanks to the participation of Miami-Dade County Animal Services Department.

“Events like this really help to remind you that we are all in this together, no matter what local you are part of, what job you do or what you worksite is,” said Claretha Stewart, an AFSCME retiree and former AFSCME Local 1184 member. “It helps to show what all the hard work, rallies and meetings are for – to make our union family stronger so our families at home can be stronger too.”

Members had plenty of ribs, chicken, watermelon and other great BBQ food to choose from throughout the day while they talked with co-workers, caught up with old friends and made plenty of new ones as well.

But it wasn’t just fun and games. There was plenty of AFSCME Strong organizing too.

Melba White, president of AFSCME Retirees Subchapter 45, was reminding members of the value of staying involved during retirement. “People spend a career serving their communities and having that impact doesn’t have to end when you stop going into the office. It just evolves to reflect the new chapter in your life as well,” said White.

Meanwhile, AFSCME Local 3292’s David Diaz urged members to support AFSCME’s PEOPLE program and also to ensure they and their family members are registered to vote at their current address.

“We have already seen how unpredictable this election season can be, and with so many critical races in Florida this year, we need to have a strong showing by AFSCME members in the August primary and November general election,” said Diaz. “We have had a great response. What AFSCME picnic can go more than a few minutes without politics becoming a topic of conversation?”

Organizers said they were pleased with the turnout and hope it will be the start of an annual tradition.

“I’ve met a lot of AFSCME members but I have never met one that doesn’t like a good picnic,” said White.

Hillary Calls for Automatic Voter Registration Mon, 25 Apr 2016 09:30:00 -0500 HOUSTON, Texas – Presidential candidate Hillary Clinton, in a speech April 22 at Texas Southern University, called for automatic voter registration for everyone who is eligible when they turn 18, unless they chose to opt-out.

Secretary Clinton called on those who are working to make it harder for eligible voters to exercise their constitutional right to vote to “stop fear mongering.”

The Democratic Presidential candidate specifically referenced the scores of right-wing attacks on voting rights at the state level. Many states, like Wisconsin, Michigan and Ohio have laws requiring registered voters to show their IDs before casting a ballot. These laws, advanced under the guise of stopping voter fraud, disproportionately place barriers to the ballot box in front of communities of color and the elderly.

Many advocates believe that these barriers to voting are precisely the point of these laws since voter fraud so rarely occurs. In her speech, Secretary Clinton rightly diagnosed voter fraud as a “phantom epidemic.” She made it clear that, as President, she would expect Congress to repair the harm caused by the U.S. Supreme Court’s disastrous decision to overturn key provisions of the Voting Rights Act.

That 2013 ruling required states with histories of disenfranchising minorities to submit voting law changes to the Department of Justice for review.

Currently three states – Oregon, California, and West Virginia – have a system of automatic voter registration. Advocates in the states have filed similar legislation in 23 other states.

Honoring the AFSCME Members Who Never Quit Helping Others Fri, 22 Apr 2016 12:35:00 -0500 Our union has 1.6 million powerful stories to tell and individuals to recognize. Members like Rachel Cooper, a school cafeteria manager who’s working to bring healthy foods to the 1,500 children she feeds every day. “If you feed a child, you give that child hope through a meal,” says Rachel. Or Ronnie Roberts, who comes out after every storm to clear debris from the streets so his neighbors can get to work.

Rachel, Ronnie and so many like them embody the spirit of pride in public service. It’s a “Never Quit” spirit. Because public service isn’t just a job. It’s a calling.

We’ve launched a Never Quit website to honor the spirit that defines AFSCME members like Rachel and Ronnie.

The centerpiece of this project is the Never Quit Service Award. This is your chance to share your story or to recognize a co-worker who takes great pride in their work (no matter how big or small); who brings a smile to the faces of the people they serve or work with; or who just simply never quits doing the best job they can.

We’ll add the stories of award winners to the Never Quit website, joining the stories of Rachel, Ronnie and a few other members who embody the “Never Quit” spirit. Do you know someone whose commitment to public service inspires you? Visit the website to nominate someone for the Never Quit Service Award.

Illinois Direct Support Personnel Push for a Pay Raise Wed, 20 Apr 2016 14:10:00 -0500 CHICAGO – Approximately 27,000 children and adults with developmental disabilities throughout Illinois are cared for by skilled public service workers who struggle with poverty-level wages. The reason is the state’s failure to raise the reimbursement rates for their nonprofit agency employers.

These front-line workers, known officially as Direct Support Personnel (DSPs), provide care for some of the state’s most vulnerable residents in community-based settings. Yet, ironically, their low wages make these critical employees vulnerable themselves.

“In order to make ends meet, I have to work overtime,” explains Audrey Lake, a DSP employed by the Ray Graham Association, a nonprofit agency providing community-based care for adults with developmental disabilities. Lake, also a member of AFSCME Local 3492 (Council 31), adds, “I work long hours because I have to, because of my financial situation.”

In an effort to increase their wages to a minimum $15 an hour, Council 31 is working with a coalition of community-based nonprofit agencies, parents of clients under their care – and the DSPs themselves – to make the public aware of their plight in order to increase pressure on elected officials to do the right thing.

“Fifteen dollars an hour would do so much for me and my family,” said Shekeira Giddens, a DSP at Clearbrook, Inc., single mother of two and a member of AFSCME Local 2871. “I work long hours and pick up 35 hours of overtime each week to try to give my two kids a normal childhood.”

Due to the low wages, Ray Graham Association has a hard time attracting qualified employees, which increases turnover that ultimately hurts the quality of the care that clients receive.

“It has been eight years since the state of Illinois has passed along any cost of doing business adjustments to community providers,” acknowledged Kim Zoeller, CEO of the Ray Graham Association. “In those eight years, inflation has gone up 14 percent.”

George H., whose son Clifton has been receiving care for more than 10 years, knows how important it is that the state pay his son’s caregivers a living wage. “When I watch what the DSPs do for my son, and for others with disabilities on a daily basis, they certainly deserve more. I don’t know how they can survive on $9.35 an hour.”

“Bottled Water” in Flint Goes Viral Wed, 20 Apr 2016 13:24:00 -0500 Flint, Mich. – For Tyrone Wooten, putting in a 16-hour shift at Flint’s Hurley Medical Center is just another day on the job for this a member of AFSCME Local 1603 (Council 25). But when the water crisis forced city residents to stop using their own tap water, he decided to create a YouTube video called “Bottled Water,” a moving portrait of his family’s struggles to deal with the crisis.

“Me, my wife and two children use between 900 and 1,000 bottles of water a week,” said Wooten. “To drink, cook, bathe and wash, it takes a lot of water.”

Just like tens of thousands of other Flint residents, Wooten has his now-daily ritual of loading water into his house, and unloading all the empty bottles to discard. But he counts himself as one of the fortunate ones. “Luckily, my kids and my wife and myself have all tested negative for lead,” said Wooten.

See how Flint AFSCME Locals Help Neighbors in Need

Wooten says he made the video to show the day-to-day toll the crisis brings to everyone for something most Americans take for granted – clean water.

“We have some of the most expensive water bills in the country in Flint,” said Wooten. “And then we find out we’ve been paying our bills to someone who is poisoning us. That really takes you back a minute.”

Wooten’s family is trying to stay positive through this crisis by focusing on staying healthy. Eating right, exercising, being active and trying to get on with their daily lives are priorities.

“We’re focused on hope, and we try to find something positive coming from a bad thing like this happening,” said Wooten. But he admits sometimes it’s hard to stay optimistic.

“It’s hard when you have a family and you’re looking right at them and trying to give them some inspiration that change is coming when you’re not sure yourself. It makes me feel bad and I wonder if I’m telling them the truth or not. But I want to believe it as much as I’m saying it.

“We don’t want to be known as just a place that was poisoned,” he added. “A lot of good people have come from the city of Flint. And there are still a lot of good people here. We don’t want that to die.”

Wooten said the crisis “has united our city. Lead doesn’t know if you’re black or white, rich or poor. We’re all in this together. Remember, Flint was built off the backs of union workers. We’re tough. This city is tough, and we will get through this.”

Member Takes Workplace Violence Fight to DC Tue, 19 Apr 2016 15:01:00 -0500 Eric Hesse, an AFSCME Council 5 member and a lead security counselor at Minnesota Security Hospital in St. Peter, came to Washington, DC, last week to raise awareness about intensifying workplace violence against health care workers in his state and throughout the country.

Hesse, a victim of a brutal attack in which he nearly lost his eye, spoke at a Congressional press conference announcing the findings of a new Government Accountability Office (GAO) report that underscores the need for a clear standard for employers to ensure a safer workplace environment for health care workers.

Violence against health care workers is intensifying nationwide. According to the GAO, violence in the workplace is a serious concern for 15 million health care workers across the country. But the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, the federal agency charged with the enforcement of federal safety and health laws, has failed to implement and enforce a specific standard to protect health care workers from the known hazard of workplace violence.

Without a clear standard it is difficult to compel employers to comply with their responsibilities to keep employees safe. In many states, including Minnesota, this has allowed an epidemic of workplace violence to go unaddressed.  

The Minnesota Security Hospital houses patients who are committed as mentally ill, and sex offenders. One patient with a recent history of violence assaulted Hesse, who suffered a fracture of his orbital bone and sinus damage. He received 17 stitches and his orbital bone is now replaced by fatty tissue.

But Hesse isn’t the only one who has been hurt at his facility. “I would like to say that my attack prompted changes that make the workplace safer, but that is not the case,” he said at the Capitol Hill press conference. “In 2015 alone, our facility had 183 cases of staff being assaulted by patients, a 40 percent increase from 2014.”

Violence in other facilities across the state have moved AFSCME members to action, calling on the governor to address funding and staff shortfalls.

According to the GAO report and health care workers like Hesse, these terrible incidents are both predictable and preventable. “There are common-sense measures that could prevent injuries,” said Hesse. “We need access to tools and training that are proven to prevent violent attacks against health care workers and the clients we serve.”

AFSCME President Lee Saunders said the new GAO report is a step in the right direction, but more needs to be done to protect health care workers. “Showing up to work should not mean putting your life on the line, and violence is not ‘part of the job,’” he said. “We have a duty to make all healthcare facilities safe for patients and staff by mandating and implementing a clear standard for employers to ensure a safer workplace environment.”

Public Safety at Risk from Malloy ‘Austerity’ Mon, 18 Apr 2016 11:55:00 -0500 HARTFORD, Conn. – Chants of “tax the rich, not the workers” and “respect those who protect” reverberated outside the state Capitol here March 29 as more than 700 state public safety workers marched to protest Gov. Dannel P. Malloy’s “austerity budget,” which includes substantial state employee layoffs and deep cuts to vital services. 

Members of AFSCME Council 4’s Corrections and Judicial bargaining units were a big part of the rally, sponsored by the newly formed Connecticut Public Safety Employee Coalition, an alliance of unions representing nearly 10,000 state workers on the front lines of public safety and criminal justice.

“We are the individuals who protect Connecticut citizens,” said coalition spokesman Charles DellaRocco, a state Supreme Court police officer and president of AFSCME Local 749, representing 1,600 state workers. “We’re here to say that mass layoffs and cuts to our services will make Connecticut a more dangerous and less law-abiding place.”

The Connecticut legislature recently approved a stop-gap budget to close a nearly $200 million hole for the current fiscal year, but a deficit of more than $900 million looms for the next fiscal year. The governor and legislative leaders on both sides of the aisle have adamantly ruled out any revenue solutions, and instead have pushed for state employee unions to reopen their 2011 health and pension agreement for concessionary bargaining.

Absent economic concessions, Malloy is proceeding with plans for “very, very substantial” layoffs that could number in the thousands. The layoffs began in early April. He also ordered state agencies like the Department of Correction to cut their budgets by millions.

Last week, Council 4 joined with AFT Connecticut to release a multi-media advertising campaign featuring educators and first responders (including DellaRocco) asking citizens to urge the governor and legislative leaders to make better choices than layoffs and service cuts.

Sara Johannesen, a correctional officer and member of AFSCME Local 1565 who works at Bridgeport Correctional Center, said short staffing is already causing her fellow officers to work 16 hour shifts, four to five days a week. 

“How aware can you constantly be when you’re carrying that kind of work load?” Johannesen asked. “If there’s a code, it doesn’t just jeopardize the person working in a unit, it jeopardizes everyone who runs to a code and what happens after it.”

Connecticut’s new public safety coalition plans to keep the street heat going. Immediately after their rally, which attracted statewide press coverage, more than 100 union members went inside the Capitol to lobby their legislators and urge them to make better choices – such as raising taxes on millionaires and billionaires, and ending reckless outsourcing – rather than pursue layoffs and service cuts. 

“You’re putting your lives on the line to keep the citizens of Connecticut safe,” said Rudy Demiraj, a correctional officer and president of AFSCME Local 387. “Yet [the governor and legislators] want to play politics with our lives and our futures. We’re not going to let them. We’re going to keep fighting.”

Super-Rich Hiding Trillions from Taxman Mon, 18 Apr 2016 09:00:00 -0500 The Panama Papers leak proves what middle-class Americans have been saying for decades: ultra-wealthy individuals and corporations are doing everything they can to avoid paying their fair share in taxes, even as they take advantage of the public services and infrastructure that benefit us all.

The Panama Papers, leaked to the media and published April 3, are about 11.5 million documents with confidential information about more than 214,000 offshore companies.  They include the names of shareholders and directors of companies and show how wealthy individuals hide their assets from public view, not always for illegal purposes but often to avoid paying taxes.

Many of those implicated are foreign leaders, but the fact is that U.S. citizens trying to hide their assets don’t have to go to Panama – they can establish a shell corporation here at home. In some places in the United States, it is easier -- and nearly as cheap – to get a fishing license than to register a shell company.

What the Panama Papers show is that money to support our schools, hospitals, prisons and other public services is available, just hidden. There’s no justification for politicians who balance state budgets on the backs of public workers and outsource public services, while doing nothing to prevent the ultra-wealthy and corporations from squirreling away their taxable income.

President Obama introduced new rules to narrow the loopholes that permit “inversion,” when a U.S.-based multinational corporation merges with a foreign one in a low-tax nation to pass itself off as foreign and cut its American taxes.

Just two days after the Obama administration announced the new rules, Pfizer’s merger with Allergan (a drug company based in Ireland) was dropped. It would have been the biggest tax-avoidance deal in the history of corporate America.

But Obama can only do so much. It will take action by Congress to effectively prevent these tax avoidance schemes to continue.

We all benefit from the public services and infrastructure that make our country great, but not all of us pay our fair share. As tax deadline approaches this April 18, the Panama Papers serve as an important reminder that the wealthiest 1 percent are still not paying their fair share.

Calling All Kitten Cuddlers! Thu, 14 Apr 2016 18:04:00 -0500 “Miami overrun with kittens, cuddlers wanted,” “Dream Come True: Miami in Need of Kitten Cuddlers” screamed the headlines. Facebook, Twitter and other social media recently lit up after the Miami-Dade County Animal Services Department announced that it is looking for help to care for very young orphaned kittens.

This unique foster care program for newborns without a nursing mother has operated on a limited scale before but, thanks to the input of AFSCME Local 199 members within the department, this year it is operating at full speed.

“We are AFSCME Strong in this department and that strength helps every employee knows that if they have an idea on how to do something better, or if something is needed to serve the animals better, they can speak up,” said Anthony Casas, a veterinary technician and AFSCME member. “People know that if you have an idea, the worst thing you can do is to keep it to yourself. Your union will always stand by your side if there are misunderstandings along the way.”

Casas, a Miami-Dade native who has been a member for all of the four years at the department, says that during this time of year they received at least one litter of kittens every day from clinics, animal control officers or even from people just walking in. “And when you think there can easily be six kittens in each litter, the numbers quickly add up,” Casas said.

People who want to participate in the program can begin the process with a simple email containing the subject line “Kitten Cuddler.” After an initial screening, Kitten Cuddlers complete a training session on the general care of newborn kittens that, most of the time, are still too young to be put up for adoption. They also receive supplies including heating pads, feeding bottles and kitten milk replacer.

“The most important thing we give people is a direct line of communication for anything that comes up between their regular visits,” says Casas. “Like with every animal we see, each kitten gets a specific treatment plan that the whole team then has a role in seeing through.”

Casas gives every animal a thorough physical exam, administers vaccines and executes the treatment plan, as well as assists in any surgeries or with other issues that may arise.

Casas has no doubt the plan has already been a success.

“We are not turning animals away, even during this busy season,” said Casas. “Because we developed such a strong program, we are even transporting animals old enough for traditional adoption to other qualified shelters and agencies all over the country. So maybe the next pet adopted in your neighborhood will be a Miami original!”

AFSCME Supports Verizon Workers Out on Strike Thu, 14 Apr 2016 13:15:00 -0500 A fair contract is all that Verizon workers are asking for, and having to go out on strike to achieve it should not have happened. It did because of management’s lack of respect for its workforce, and AFSCME stands in solidarity with these proud members of the Communications Workers of America (CWA) and the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW).

The contract dispute, stretching 10 months, reached the strike stage yesterday as nearly 40,000 East Coast workers walked off the job. Explaining what is holding up a settlement, Dennis Trainor, CWA’s District 1 vice president, and Edward Mooney, vice president of CWA District 2-13, issued the following statement, which we quote in part:

“CWA and IBEW were told by the company that health care cost savings was their top priority in negotiations. We have addressed this in bargaining, yet they still demand the destruction of good jobs while they book spectacular profits of $1.8 billion per month. Additionally, company executives refuse to offer any raises or other improvements to Verizon Wireless retail workers.”

"No one ever wants to go on strike – it's always the last resort," said IBEW Pres. Lonnie R. Stephenson in a statement. “But Verizon's refusal to bargain in good faith with employees and its insistence on gutting job security, retirement security and outsourcing good American jobs overseas gives us no choice.”

Show your support for our sisters and brothers at Verizon who went on strike. Watch and share this video, then click here to sign the petition to support striking workers. Visit to find a picket line or rally near you.

Never Quit: In Oregon, a Fight for Fairness Wed, 13 Apr 2016 13:27:00 -0500 If you make sacrifices during hard times, you deserve to be paid back during the good times. That’s the case Oregon’s public service workers made for years, and they never quit fighting to make it a reality.

In the case of the state’s Department of Corrections (DOC), AFSCME Council 75 had to resort to a grievance and an arbitration to make things right. This month Oregon AFSCME won a grievance arbitration affecting about 100 employees and worth approximately $500,000. 

Between 2007 and 2009, during the Great Recession, Oregon state employees took financial hits, including furloughs, pay freezes, delayed step increases and even rollbacks of pay increases that had already been awarded. During negotiations for the 2013-2015 collective bargaining agreements, Oregon Council 75 made it clear that fixing the inequities was one of its top priorities.

The DOC resisted making things right for employees who had fallen behind, but eventually agreed to correct an inequity in which new employees were getting paid more money than employees hired before them. After an agreement was reached in 2013, the DOC refused to correct the issue for approximately 100 employees that it claimed did not meet criteria outlined in a Letter of Agreement that settled those negotiations. Council 75 disagreed and took it to arbitration.

In a March 26 ruling, arbitrator Gary Axon agreed with AFSCME and concluded that DOC could not deny the correction to employees using criteria that was not in the agreement, and that had not been negotiated with AFSCME. He ordered the DOC to make the affected employees whole, which will include advancing those employees one step in the salary scale and large back-pay awards for most of them. 

“This is a huge weight off of my shoulders and will mean a lot to my family,” said Cpl. Chad Duncan of the Santiam Correctional Institution and also a Council 75 member. “This was a long process, but the union came through for us and had our backs. I am so pleased and I know my family will be, too.”

Under the arbitration ruling, each affected employee will be awarded a full step increase this year, dating back to July 1, 2013, plus all the increased wages, differentials and overtime pay they should have gotten had they had this negotiated step increase. 

After the state of Oregon agreed to a limited fix with other bargaining units, DOC proposed a similar agreement allowing some AFSCME-represented employees to reclaim the rights they deserve. When AFSCME found examples of employees who fit the criteria but were not paid, corrections coordinator Tim Woolery filed the grievance that led to this $500,000 win.

“We worked hard for this victory,” said Jennifer Chapman, Council 75’s general counsel.  “Correcting this inequity for our members was very important. The decision proves that words, negotiations and fairness all matter. Just because an employer says something should be handled a certain way doesn’t make it so.”

Governor Dayton Seeks $177 Million for Safe Staffing Wed, 13 Apr 2016 10:45:00 -0500 Heeding the cries for help from understaffed and battered nurses and workers at state psychiatric facilities, Minnesota Gov. Mark Dayton called on the Legislature to earmark $177 million to improve patient care and safety.

Flanked by three health care workers represented by AFSCME Council 5, Dayton told a news conference in St. Paul on April 6 that the funding would correct “decades of neglect” in the state’s mental health facilities. “It is imperative that the Legislature correct some of these deficiencies this year,” he said.

“Violent patients are assaulting staff in record numbers,” said Jackie Spanjers, a nurse at the Anoka-Metro Regional Treatment Center and president of AFSCME Local 1307 (Council 5). “We’re walking around wounded and feel like punching bags.”

Kaija McMillen, a 25-year-old security counselor who volunteered to serve and work with the most dangerous of the mentally ill, now is facing rehabilitation with a career-ending brain injury after being attacked by a patient. “I’ve lost everything that made me feel independent, like being a good mom,” she said through tears in a TV interview. “It’s changed my life probably forever.”

Council 5 escalated a campaign last year to dramatize the dangers of understaffing in the psychiatric centers. AFSCME has documented hundreds of injuries to workers on Safe Staffing MN, a Facebook community where workers share their stories and unite efforts to improve safety.

As part of the Dayton proposal, approximately 335 full-time staff would be added over the next three years at the Minnesota Security Hospital in St. Peter and 33 new staff at Anoka-Metro Regional Treatment Center. Seven smaller psychiatric hospitals would be funded to operate at full capacity. A legislative auditor concluded last month that many of the state’s smaller psychiatric hospitals are operating far below capacity.

Tim Headlee, a security counselor at the St. Peter hospital and president of AFSCME Local 404, says Minnesota is falling behind other states in its treatment of mental health, urging that facilities like Minnesota Security Hospital move away from a “correctional model” to a more therapeutic one.

But Minnesota is not the only state grappling with the issue, and the General Accounting Office (GAO) is expected to release a report this Thursday, April 14, on workplace violence in health care settings. AFSCME-represented hospital and health care workers are calling for a national commitment to legislation and policies that foster safer workplace environments for those who serve critical health care needs in our communities.

Make Your Voices Heard on Equal Pay Day Tue, 12 Apr 2016 09:09:00 -0500 Equal pay for equal work is simple fairness for the millions of women who do work equivalent to their male counterparts. Yet today, Equal Pay Day, this fairness is still out of reach. That’s why we need to urge Congress to pass the Paycheck Fairness Act.

The Paycheck Fairness Act, reintroduced last year by U.S. Rep. Rosa DeLauro of Connecticut and Sen. Barbara Mikulski of Maryland, would give muscle to the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, signed into law by President Obama seven years ago this January. He considered it so important that it was the first piece of legislation he signed upon becoming President.

Yet employers continued to find ways to avoid the law’s clear intent to end wage discrimination. The Paycheck Fairness Act will plug the gaps in the law by – among other things – requiring employers to demonstrate that wage differentials are based on facts other than sex. Also, it would prohibit retaliation against workers who inquire about their employers’ wage practices, or disclose their own wages.

The Fairness Act also would strengthen penalties for equal pay violations.

The facts of pay equity have been proven repeatedly. The National Women’s Law Center notes that:

  • Women currently make 79 cents to the dollar a man earns.
  • African-American women make 60 cents and Latino women make 55 cents for every dollar a white, non-Hispanic male makes. Asian-American women make 90 cents to the dollar.
  • The size of the wage gap differs by state. Learn how your state measures up here.

“The 79-cent figure reflects the many discriminatory barriers to equal pay – including lower pay for women in the same job; the segregation of women into lower-paying jobs and exclusion of women from higher-paying, nontraditional jobs; bias against women with caregiving responsibilities; and lack of workplace policies to allow workers to care for families without paying a stiff economic penalty,” the National Women’s Law Center states.

Among the Law Center’s recommendations is to “strengthen our equal pay laws so that women have the tools they need to fight back against pay discrimination.”

“We need to pass other laws at the federal, state and local levels to make sure that the protections of the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act exist in every workplace,” AFSCME Pres. Lee Saunders wrote in the Huffington Post.

That’s why AFSCME supports the Paycheck Fairness Act. Simply, equal pay can’t wait.

Tell Senate Majority Leader McConnell and House Speaker Ryan to schedule a vote on the Paycheck Fairness Act. Because equal work deserves equal pay.

Library Workers: Community Treasure Tue, 12 Apr 2016 09:00:00 -0500 In an era when many people access books through electronic devices, search the Internet for information, or turn to online social media to seek answers to their questions, it’s good to know that librarians and library support staff are there to help ease our way through the information jungle.

Today, April 12, is National Library Workers Day, celebrated during National Library Week. AFSCME is proud to represent more than 25,000 library workers nationwide – more than any other union. They work in public libraries across the country as well as in schools and universities, and even the Library of Congress.

Today is also Equal Pay Day, a meaningful coincidence as library jobs are predominately held by women who are often not paid the same as men for doing the same work. AFSCME, along with the American Library Association, is a leading advocate for equitable pay for library workers.

AFSCME works throughout the country to support full funding for libraries and their workers – a real challenge in cities and smaller communities where short-sighted lawmakers have sought to reduce public services to save a few dollars. When confronted with reduced services, AFSCME members fought to preserve jobs and services.

That’s what happened last year in New York City, where AFSCME’s DC 37 campaigned with community groups and other library systems and successfully advocated for funding that allowed the public libraries to return to six-day-a-week operations, plus increased staffing and added service hours.

This year, DC 37 is making the case to the mayor and City Council members to restore $65 million to maintain and improve services at the city’s three public library systems. At a March 23 press conference in front of City Hall, DC 37 Assoc. Dir. Oliver Gray said, “We are concerned about a process where year after year, there is this budget dance where people have to come begging for money.” Restoring funds on a recurring basis would give the library systems crucial financial stability, he suggested.

Barbara Paquette Barbara Paquette: “Librarians are the key to navigating this entire adventure.” (Photo by Helen Azar)

Working with allies and the public, AFSCME-represented library workers have won numerous battles to increase or restore funding. Barbara Paquette, library supervisor at the Free Library of Philadelphia, recalls one such battle in 2005 when members of AFSCME Local 2186 (District Council 47) successfully fought a plan to turn as many as 20 city libraries into so-called “McBranches,” the name given to libraries run without librarians to save money. They won. By the fall of 2005 all branches had full-day service, Saturday hours and a head librarian.

“Librarians,” she said, “are the key to navigating this entire adventure,” which encompasses books, services to children under five, jobseekers, English language classes, computer assistance for seniors and even tools to start a small business. “Without librarians,” she added, “you’re missing the key to opening the door to all the resources of the library. We’re the key to opening that door.”

Roy StoneRoy Stone: “I love what I do, and it’s important.” (Photo by Jennifer Hamm)

Residents of Los Angeles also experienced severe cutbacks in library services during the economic downturn of 2010. “There were cutbacks in all departments,” recalled Roy Stone, Senior Librarian at the Fairfax Branch Library in Los Angeles and president of The Librarians Guild/AFSCME Local 2626 (Council 36). The city that year slashed the library system’s budget by $22 million, forcing Monday closures and the loss of 328 full-time positions.

Local 2626 members and allies fought back, informing the public of the issue and even working to get out the vote to support library-friendly city council candidates. “We prevented as many layoffs as possible,” Stone said. “But inadequate staffing levels remains a problem because we can’t provide the full gamut of services that taxpayers deserve.”

“I love what I do, and it’s important,” Stone added. “We make every community a better place and we improve the lives of people every day.”

U.S. Women’s Soccer Players Kick Pay Scale Sat, 09 Apr 2016 12:00:00 -0500 The U.S. women’s national soccer team – three-time World Cup champions and four-time Olympic champions – are only paid 40 percent of what men are paid by U.S. Soccer, the governing body for the sport. But they are drawing a line in the dirt and demanding equal pay.

Earlier this month, five women who play on the national team filed a federal complaint against the U.S. Soccer Federation for wage discrimination, saying they were being shortchanged on everything from bonuses and appearance fees to per diems.

“We continue to be told we should be grateful just to have the opportunity to play professional soccer, and to get paid for doing it,” said one of the players, goalkeeper Hope Solo. “In this day and age, it’s about equality. It's about equal rights, it's about equal pay.”

Not all working women are as high-profile as these professional athletes, who have been celebrated by soccer fans throughout the world. But the gender pay gap affects everyone. Whether they’re librarians, health care workers or correctional officers, women are breadwinners in nearly two-thirds of American households.

To highlight the need for pay equity, each year we mark Equal Pay Day, a date that symbolizes how far into the year women must work to earn what men earned in the previous year. This year Equal Pay Day falls on Tuesday, April 12.

Women currently make 79 cents to the dollar a man earns, and the wage gap is even worse for women of color: African American women make 60 cents, and Latino women make 55 cents for every dollar a white, non-Hispanic male makes. Asian American women make 90 cents to the dollar; they are more likely to have advanced degrees than white men, but are still paid less.

The Equal Pay Act hasn't been updated since 1963. That’s why Congress needs to pass the Paycheck Fairness Act. The Paycheck Fairness Act would further close the legal loopholes standing in the way of wage equality for women and prohibit retaliation against workers asking about wage practices.  

Tell Senate Majority Leader McConnell and House Speaker Ryan to schedule a vote on the Paycheck Fairness Act. Because equal work deserves equal pay.

Sodexo Workers Catch Up with Jacksonville Pact Thu, 07 Apr 2016 12:04:00 -0500 For AFSCME Local 1328 members, their AFSCME Strong training was put to the test recently when it came to helping a subset of their coworkers to a contract win.

It began six months ago when AFSCME members at UF Health Jacksonville overwhelmingly approved a new three-year contract that kept up benefits while making progress on pay and retirement. Unfortunately, left out of that progress were the 130 environmental services employees of Sodexo who are also in the AFSCME Local 1328 bargaining unit.

“Here at UF Health Jacksonville we are one big AFSCME family,” said AFSCME Local 1328 Pres. Lorenzo Sheppard. “But the reality is we had to be back at the bargaining table to ensure that we are all moving forward, even if some of us technically have a different employer.”

In the months that followed, AFSCME Strong trainings opened the eyes of Local 1328 members to how engaging every coworker will help move the entire unit forward. “No matter if it is a big step or a small step, as long as it is a step in the right direction we all win,” Sheppard said.

This month, leaders across Local 1328, not just ones within the Sodexo unit, worked together to sign up 12 new members in the first real membership drive specifically targeted for those workers. And they helped pass the subunit’s own three-year contract that translated into progress for careers and families, including a 2-percent pay increase.

“This contract will protect jobs, help us grow our union strength and reward our members for the hard work they do,” Sheppard said.

Sandy Mayes Followed in Her Dad’s Footsteps Thu, 07 Apr 2016 11:56:00 -0500 Sandy Mayes comes from a union family. Her dad, a machine adjustor for an aluminum company, was president of his local, and so she and her siblings went to every union meeting he had.

“It was predominantly women in the local, so we got to see all the struggles that women were having and it motivated us kids to become union members,” she says.

Today, Mayes is president of AFSCME Local 4011, the Jefferson County (Kentucky) Association of Educational Support Personnel. She is a teacher assistant for the public school system, where she’s worked for 24 years. She says women workers have come a long way since the days when her father was fighting alongside them for equal wages, but there’s still more work to be done.

“There are men who work in our public school system who have no bachelor’s degree and get paid more than women who have a bachelor’s degree,” she says. “That’s part of what motivates me to be involved in my union.”

Last year, Mayes led her coworkers in Local 4011 to successfully fight a furlough threat. And this year, with upcoming contract negotiations, they rallied before the school board to draw attention to the county’s poverty-level wages, short-staffing and an increase in classroom responsibilities. Recently, the county laid off all school bus monitors, changed their job descriptions, and will make them reapply for their jobs, with no guarantee that they’ll be employed.

“Some of them have worked for the schools for 25 or more years,” Mayes says. “We’re fighting to stop that. They can’t just get rid of whoever they want to.”

In fighting off these threats, Mayes says the AFSCME Strong principles have played an important role. Through one-on-one conversations, they’ve not only signed new members and re-signed many existing ones, but they’ve increased the worker presence at their rallies and thus the strength of their public force.

“We usually don’t negotiate our contract until the summer, but since our rally two weeks ago, the administration has set up meetings in the spring, which is amazing,” she says. “Great things came out of that rally.”

Mayes says she took the AFSCME Strong training twice, including at the Women’s Leadership Conference, and thought it was great. Since then her 3400-member local has achieved more than 2,000 recommitments and signed up 500 new members. Mayes thinks they can achieve 95 percent membership.

“Everything we learned, if you put it into practice, it will work,” she says. “It motivates you to do things you slacked on before, like one-on-one conversations. I think a lot of times we do too many emails and put stuff on our website. But actually talking one-on-one and going to the schools has made a big difference.”

Just like she followed in her dad’s footsteps, her children are likely to follow in hers. One of her daughters works as a secretary for AFSCME and her son is a union member in the private sector. A third child helps in political campaigns.

“My daughter and her girlfriend and their kids came to our last rally,” she says. “My daughter gets mad if she doesn’t get to come to them. She’s seen what the union has done. My pay was very low when I was raising them, and now that they have their own families they see how important it is to make a decent salary for what you do.”

Working Families Win in Friedrichs, But Attacks Won’t Stop Thu, 07 Apr 2016 11:48:00 -0500 On March 29, the U.S. Supreme Court announced a tie vote in Friedrichs v. California Teachers Association, a case that was the latest attempt by wealthy special interests to silence the voices of public sector workers by targeting their unions.

As a result, nearly four decades of legal precedent and sound law will remain intact – for now. But the attacks will continue. In fact, lawyers representing the plaintiffs in Friedrichs have already petitioned the Court to rehear the case once a new justice is confirmed. Other cases like this one will target unions’ ability to collect fair share fees from nonmembers. There will be more attempts to defund unions, deplete their resources and cripple their ability to stand up for middle class families.

The 4-4 vote highlights the importance of having a Supreme Court that’s on the side of working families. President Obama did his job by nominating a qualified justice, Merrick Garland, to take the seat left vacant by Justice Antonin Scalia, who died in February. It is now up to Congress to do its job.

We will keep fighting every day to make our union stronger. Since we launched our AFSCME Strong organizing campaign in 2014, we’ve had more than 276,000 one-on-one conversations with our co-workers and more than 20,000 of our members have become PEOPLE MVPs. This is just the beginning. Because public workers serve their communities, our union will never quit.

In Maryland, Council 67 Gets AFSCME Strong as Primary Vote Nears Thu, 07 Apr 2016 11:32:00 -0500 AFSCME members of Council 67 in Maryland are making their union stronger through one-on-one conversations. And while on the topic of standing up for their jobs and communities, they’re getting out the vote for the April 26 primary elections.

Towanda Kearney and Ann Marie Mathurine, correctional sergeants in Baltimore and members of AFSCME Local 3737, are taking a break from their jobs to make their union stronger. While on lost time since mid-March, they’ve talked with hundreds of their co-workers and signed up more than 180 new members. They’ve also helped dozens of their sisters and brothers recommit to their union, and have encouraged many others to become activists.

In Maryland, Council 67 Gets AFSCME Strong as Primary Vote NearsAnn Marie Mathurine

“We’ve had lots and lots of conversations,” says Kearney, who is also her local’s treasurer. “No one wants to work in deplorable conditions, no one wants to be fired for an unjust reason, no one wants to work in an environment that is hazardous to their health. This is why people listen. We’re in the middle of a lot of chaos right now, the jails are in a deplorable condition. And everyone wants to be part of the solution, so we can work without the bad stress.”

Her advice to other AFSCME Strong activists is to always “use your own testimony. You’re an employee just like them so if you use your testimony, that’s the most real perspective you can give somebody. What I’m going through is just like what they’re going through.”

Mathurine agrees. She adds that after participating in the AFSCME Strong training, she now has the skills to have effective conversations with her co-workers. Going on lost time was a good idea because her coworkers are more receptive when they see her wearing civilian clothes and an AFSCME button.

“I think in their minds it validates how strongly I believe the union can help us,” she says.

In Maryland,Council 67 Gets AFSCME Strong as Primary Vote NearsMarvin Tate

Marvin Tate, a Public Works employee for Baltimore who is a member of AFSCME Local 44, has been part of the effort to make his union stronger. While on lost time, he has talked with hundreds of his AFSCME sisters and brothers and signed up PEOPLE MVPs.

“Politics is part of the conversation,” he says. “I tell them about the candidates we’re endorsing for city council in this year’s elections. I tell them their vote counts, and that we need to put people in charge who support our families.”

Among the issues of concern to working families in the mayoral and city council elections are protecting city pensions, fighting privatization of city services, and a $15 minimum wage for Baltimore.

More information on the presidential election is on our We Vote We Win website.