http://www.afscme.org/rss/blog Thu, 20 Aug 2015 05:00:00 +0000 AMPS en hourly 1 AFSCME Blog Feed Recent posts on the AFSCME Blog. Your Newest Union Benefit: Free College http://www.afscme.org/blog/your-newest-union-benefit-free-college Fri, 23 Sep 2016 13:24:00 -0500 http://www.afscme.org/blog/your-newest-union-benefit-free-college Working families are getting squeezed in all kinds of ways these days, but few expenses are more frightening than higher education. Whether you’ve got kids graduating high school or you’re looking to move forward in your own career, you’ve probably wondered how you’ll manage to keep up with skyrocketing tuition costs.

There’s less to worry about thanks to a new benefit for AFSCME members and families. Starting this summer, every member or retiree member, as well as spouses, children, grandchildren and dependents of AFSCME members, can earn a two-year degree online for free. That’s right — free college just for being a member in good standing.

Flexible Options for Working Families

AFSCME is partnering with Eastern Gateway Community College to provide all members and families access to their classes online. Eastern Gateway is an accredited, non-profit public institution with campuses serving eastern Ohio, but AFSCME members can enroll in the distance learning program from anywhere in the country. Right now you can earn an associate degree in Business Management or Criminal Justice, or you can complete an Associate of Arts program that can be transferred to a four-year college.

The enrollment process is simple. Just visit freecollege.AFSCME.org and verify your AFSCME membership. From there, you can fill out a simple Eastern Gateway application form and an online financial aid form. You will be contacted by an enrollment advisor to help you with any questions you may have about enrollment. You may also contact your local or council. AFSCME members around the country are being trained to help one another through the process.

This program has been running in Ohio for a year now, and hundreds of AFSCME members and their families are already taking advantage of it.

Beverly Payne, a member of Local 416, OAPSE/AFSCME, has been working full time as the secretary and transportation coordinator for a preschool for 30 years. She spends her days helping children get a start on learning. But her own educational goals were on the back burner until now.

“I had wanted to go to college a long time ago, but with four children I never had time,” she says. “When I heard about this program I decided to finally get my degree at 71 years old.”

Learning Without the Price Tag

Payne wasn’t sure how she’d adjust to student life after 50 years in the workforce. But the program allows her to take one class at a time, and her professors have been very supportive. The online, self-paced classes offered in the program are broken into two eight-week sessions each semester.  She’s acing her classes so far — and her positive experience has encouraged her family members to enroll, too.

“My daughter is enrolled right now, and another daughter is looking into it, as is my granddaughter,” she says. A third daughter has her bachelor’s degree but is thinking of taking additional courses to further her career.

The Department of Education estimates that the average associate’s program costs $3,440 per semester. It would ordinarily cost tens of thousands of dollars to put six family members through school — but thanks to AFSCME, Beverly Payne can do it simply by keeping up-to-date with her union dues.

“Public service workers are passionate about their jobs. They strive to do better for their families and their communities, and they want their union’s help to grow personally and advance professionally,” said AFSCME Pres. Lee Saunders. “We know the important role education plays in the lives of so many working-class families — helping them learn new skills and climb the ladder of opportunity. This partnership will help public service workers and their families prosper, and live their best lives.”

AFSCME Free College
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Standing Strong in Illinois http://www.afscme.org/blog/standing-strong-in-illinois Thu, 22 Sep 2016 11:46:00 -0500 http://www.afscme.org/blog/standing-strong-in-illinois Glenn Sago has been fighting for his union rights for 10 years, and he’s been through plenty. “It’s a lot of work,” he said. “It’s all worth it to know that your rights will be respected. I became a steward to stand up and make sure the contract was followed.”

But he’s never seen anything like the current situation in Illinois, where he works for the state in law enforcement support services.

Since Gov. Bruce Rauner was elected in 2014, AFSCME members there have been under fire like never before. “I’ve done negotiations with the previous governor, but this is a different battle,” says Sago, an executive board member at Local 448 (Council 31) in Rockford who also serves on the state bargaining committee.

The list of attacks is unprecedented. The governor has held the budget hostage for more than a year, blocked the state from fulfilling its promise to issue back pay to thousands of state workers, and wants to double health care costs and freeze wages for four years to implement his extreme agenda.

AFSCME Council 31's bargaining team members have told the Rauner administration repeatedly that they want to continue bargaining, but he walked away from the table in early January, seeking instead to impose his extreme demands. It seems reasonableness, compromise and collaboration are not in the governor's playbook. He's a billionaire bully, blaming the state's budget situation on working families and contending state workers make too much when, in fact, politicians in Springfield mismanaged the state's funds.

We Won't Back Down

In July, the state Labor Relations Board rejected Rauner's attempt to fast-forward a hearing process that will decide whether the parties are ordered to resume bargaining. Roberta Lynch, Council 31's executive director and an AFSCME International vice president, applauded the decision.

“We have been and remain ready to return to the bargaining table, to do the hard work of compromise,” Lynch said. “We want to reach an agreement that is fair to all. The fact that the Rauner administration pushed for this unprecedented short-circuiting of board procedures demonstrates just how fiercely determined the governor is to try to impose his own harsh terms on state employees.”

In the face of Rauner’s anti-worker agenda, Sago and his colleagues are working harder than ever to connect with their co-workers, face-to-face. These conversations are a powerful tool against Rauner’s misinformation campaign.

“Every time Rauner makes statements about us, we are out talking to members and telling them the truth,” said Sago.

National Support

AFSCME members nationwide are standing in solidarity with their sisters and brothers in Illinois. “Council 31, your fight is our fight,” Pres. Lee Saunders declared during his keynote address at AFSCME’s 42nd International Convention in July. “Your struggle is our struggle.”

Thousands of Convention delegates agreed. They voted to “stand in solidarity with AFSCME Council 31 members in state government who are directly confronting one of the most fiercely anti-union governors in the country today.”

Members of Council 31 are ready to meet whatever challenges come next. “We’ve stayed the course this long,” said Sago. “We’ve fought over a year and a half at the bargaining table and in the Legislature. It may get to the point that we have no choice but to go on strike, but the members have to vote and make that choice.” 

Over 10,000 Rally in Illinois, Demanding Governor Rauner Stop His Hostage-Taking Ten thousand rally in Springfield, demand Governor Rauner stop hurting Illinois. (Photo by David Kreisman)
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Just Doing My Job http://www.afscme.org/blog/just-doing-my-job-renita-smith Wed, 21 Sep 2016 13:34:00 -0500 http://www.afscme.org/blog/just-doing-my-job-renita-smith It was a clear, sunny September day when the unthinkable happened. But for Maryland school bus driver Renita Smith, the unthinkable was something she was well-prepared to handle.

Smith, a member of Local 2250 (ACE-AFSCME in Prince George’s County), had just made her third stop of the afternoon, dropping students off at their homes. Then, she said, “My bus started making noise,” and she prepared to pull over and notify her office. It appeared to be an inconvenience, but not a life-threatening emergency.   

That’s when she began to smell smoke. And the children did too.

“Miss bus driver! Miss bus driver! We smell smoke!” her students cried out, Smith said. “Miss bus driver, we see smoke!”

Smith immediately pulled over, seeing flames in her rearview mirror. Calling in to her supervisor wasn’t going to help solve this crisis. “I put my radio down and got my babies up and in a straight line in the aisle. I had them hold hands.”

As the fire intensified, Smith led all 20 children safely off the bus and to a neighbor’s yard away from the smoke and fumes. Smith then did the incredible. She went back onto the bus — its windows melting around her — checking every aisle for a sleeping child, making sure all of them had gotten off.

“There wasn’t a bus attendant with me that day to do the count,” she explained of her heroism. “So I knew I had to go back on the bus to make sure I got all my babies.” Because that’s what her instincts and training told her to do.

That’s the “never quit” spirit that AFSCME members bring to their jobs every day, whether they’re bus drivers, first responders or other public service workers. And they do it without expectation of special recognition.

“I was just doing my job and what’s expected of me,” said Smith, herself a mother of two. “Serving my community means that you’re not being selfish. You’re thinking of how to do something for others and not expect anything in return. For God to give me a supernatural power to do what I did and save those babies, I pat myself on the back and say, ‘Job well done.’ I’m proud because my babies are all home.”

And we’re proud she’s a member of our AFSCME family.

Burned school bus The charred remains of driver Renita Smith’s school bus. (Photo by Kevin Kennedy, Local 2250/ACE-AFSCME, Prince George’s County, Maryland)
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Your Vote: Protect Your Power http://www.afscme.org/blog/your-vote-protect-your-power Wed, 21 Sep 2016 11:00:00 -0500 http://www.afscme.org/blog/your-vote-protect-your-power Fighting for justice and fairness is a part of AFSCME's DNA. Throughout our history, our sisters and brothers fought for workers’ rights, women’s rights and immigrants’ rights, among others, to advance justice for working families in our union and around the country.

So it’s no surprise AFSCME supported the Voting Rights Act (VRA), signed by Pres. Lyndon B. Johnson in August of 1965, to erase barriers that prevented Americans from exercising their right to vote.

Yet 51 years after this landmark law, some politicians still seek to drag us back to the old days.

This will be the first Presidential election in 50 years without the full protections of the VRA, thanks to a Supreme Court ruling that said a provision of the VRA was no longer necessary. And a rash of voter ID laws enacted to combat so-called voter fraud quickly followed that ruling. The result could be more requirements for people to vote, fewer days of early voting, long lines at the polls on Election Day and more voters turned away.

Labor Rights and Voting Rights: the Same Fight

Voter ID laws make a mockery of our democracy. As Rev. Dr. William Barber said so powerfully during his address to AFSCME delegates at the 42nd International Convention in July, “…labor rights and the fight for voting rights are the same fights.”

At AFSCME we don’t let injustice go unaddressed.

Quentin Hutchins of Local 1644 is a school bus operator in Atlanta. But that’s not all: He also sees the effects of Georgia’s voter ID laws, one of the strictest such laws in the country, and is speaking out.

“Thousands of voters were given the wrong information about where to vote,” Hutchins told the assembled delegates at Convention, adding some who arrived at the correct voting site were not allowed to vote, even if they were in line before the polls closed.

Hutchins won’t allow attempts to silence his family, friends and neighbors. And we shouldn’t either. We need to make our voices heard against voter ID laws. That’s why delegates at Convention passed a resolution calling for the expansion of voting rights throughout the country.

Voter Fraud Is a Myth

Let’s be clear: Voter fraud is a myth.

The facts back it up: The Department of Justice found “no apparent cases of in-person voter impersonation” when it reviewed its databases and other sources. Academic studies, investigative reports by journalists and court rulings draw the same conclusions.

Appropriately, the courts have blocked some of these voting restrictions. A federal appeals court recently struck down North Carolina’s voter ID law, saying the state’s General Assembly enacted it after “unprecedented African American voter participation in a state with a troubled racial history and racially polarized voting.”

Similarly, a federal court found Texas’ voter ID law violated the VRA. North Dakota’s voter ID law was blocked by a federal judge who said it unfairly burdened Native Americans. And a Kansas judge blocked the state’s two-tier voting system, which required proof of citizenship to vote in local and state elections, but not in federal elections.

Our Democracy’s Sacred Cornerstone

The right to vote is the sacred cornerstone of our democracy. It is your voice. And your vote should be exercised unimpeded.

“We cannot sit silent while the forces against us try to chip away at the progress that was made,” Hutchins said.

He’s right. AFSCME members fight for what is right. That’s our tradition.

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Meet AFSCME’s Never Quit Innovation Award winners http://www.afscme.org/blog/meet-afscme-never-quit-innovation-award-winners Tue, 20 Sep 2016 12:00:00 -0500 http://www.afscme.org/blog/meet-afscme-never-quit-innovation-award-winners As AFSCME members, we’re committed to providing the best possible public services for our communities. That commitment is reflected in the creative ideas and innovations we bring to our jobs, making our communities even better.

Innovation sometimes means sticking your neck out to offer a new solution to a problem that nobody else has thought of, and it can be risky. But the rewards — in the pride that comes from finding ways to bring public services in-house, makes the risks worth taking. Through their innovations, AFSCME members have earned the respect of their employers and their neighbors.

Innovation not only makes our communities better, it makes our union stronger. That’s why we’re honoring four of our sisters and brothers with AFSCME’s first-ever Never Quit Innovation Award. It honors members who have made a difference to their union, their community and even to their state — and beyond.

Saving Lives

Melvin N. Puu Melvin N. Puu

As a lifeguard and surfer in Hawaii, Melvin N. Puu’s job is to save lives, and he’s saved many. Because saving lives is his calling, he helped create an innovation that will save thousands of lives worldwide.

Oahu’s North Shore has the reputation of having some of the biggest waves in the world, and the surfers who tackle them face serious injury and even death without quick rescue. Watching surfers being knocked off their boards, Puu — alongside a group of other “big wave” surfers and lifeguards — helped pioneer the development and use of personal rescue watercraft.

Their innovative and life-saving idea: attach a “boogie board” to a WaveRunner, produced by the Yamaha Motor Company. They also developed a rescue program and advocated in court for permission to use jet skis in rescues conducted by public lifeguards.

They succeeded. By 1991 the city and county of Honolulu made the use of rescue craft part of its daily operations. Hawaii County Mayor Billy Kenoi also became interested in using the techniques and equipment as a public service. In 2014, the Ocean Safety Division launched the service with a $320,000 budget.

Today, Puu is a water safety officer for the City and County of Honolulu's Emergency Services Department, working in the Ocean Safety Division on Oahu. His union, the Hawaii Government Employees Association (HGEA)/AFSCME Local 152, represents the state’s lifeguards. He is HGEA’s Unit 14 director. And Puu's dedication to water safety doesn't end at Hawaii shores.

Puu helps train lifeguards in the use of the watercraft in rescues, at home and around the world.

Building Unity

Terry Magnant Terry Magnant

Who would have thought that gardening would strengthen a union?

Terry Magnant did.

A certified nursing assistant (CNA) working at the Wisconsin Veterans Home at King, Magnant saw her union devastated after Gov. Scott Walker succeeded in 2011 in stripping away the rights of public service workers to come together in union to negotiate collectively.

Membership declined in the wake of Walker’s destructive Act 10. Magnant knew she needed to keep her sisters and brothers in Local 555 (Council 32) united. They joined together, and as a group they were able to beat back unilateral scheduling changes.

Magnant, who became the local’s president in 2014, then came up with her innovative idea to maintain her co-workers camaraderie: gardening.

So last May, Local 555 members dug in — literally — to revitalize a long-neglected garden on the grounds of the Veterans home. They pitched in to buy and plant hundreds of new perennials. They created a garden that has since come into its second season.

Magnant and her fellow members of Local 555 continue to work with pride to maintain and revitalize the garden. It’s the same way they work with pride to keep their union flourishing — an innovation that has sprouted its own blossoms in a garden of public services.

Safety First

Eric Wisner Eric Wisner

Necessity is often the mother of invention — and so it was for St. Louis sanitation worker Eric Wisner.

Wisner, a heavy equipment operator II in the city’s Refuse Division, sits on the city’s Accident Review Committee/Safety Steering Committee. With 17 years of experience under his belt, he is uniquely qualified to see shortcomings that could lead to injury or death on the job.

As a steward of Local 410 (Missouri Council 72), Wisner is always on the lookout for safety measures to protect his co-workers. Realizing that newly hired employees in his division lacked an adequate training program, he innovated.

In 2014, Wisner led an effort to improve the city’s training program to more safely, efficiently and effectively collect commercial and residential refuse. Today, new hires get two weeks of training on equipment they must operate, and more for more complicated operations.

This year, he also led negotiations to win a 10 percent bonus for workers in training.

Wisner and his fellow AFSCME members work relentlessly to improve safety and increase fairness within his division. That effort involved building strength on the job through organizing, then using that strength in innovative ways to improve the vital public services they provide.

Doing It Better, Smarter

Barbara Cooper Barbara Cooper

West Chester University custodian Barbara “Bunnie” Cooper didn't give in to outsourcing — she fought back.

Cooper knew that the employees of her eastern Pennsylvania campus could do their work better and for less money than companies hired from outside. She set about to prove it.

As president of Local 2345 (Council 88) and treasurer of Council 13, Cooper understood the threat that outsourcing (sending jobs to an outside company) posed to her co-workers and fellow AFSCME members. Many were already unhappy that the university often hired outside of the system, rather than promote from within. Now their work was on the line.

It was time to take matters into their own hands. So Cooper identified work slated to be outsourced — including carpentry, heating and air conditioning and cement repair — and had her co-workers select which projects they would like to do. Then she gathered the evidence needed to persuade the university to let her co-workers carry out the work.

The university agreed. Cooper and her co-workers saved the university considerably, even with overtime. In 2015, they saved more than $250,000 on projects that would otherwise have been outsourced.

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Lighting Up Las Vegas http://www.afscme.org/blog/lighting-up-las-vegas Tue, 20 Sep 2016 12:00:00 -0500 http://www.afscme.org/blog/lighting-up-las-vegas Never Quit. That’s the spirit of AFSCME members. It’s who we are — proud, resilient hard workers who get up early and stay up late to keep our communities running.

At our 42nd International Convention this summer, that Never Quit spirit was downright electric, with enough wattage to light up the entire Las Vegas Strip. Several thousand delegates and alternates convened to strengthen public services and our union, preparing to fight for a better future for all working families.

We voiced our solidarity with AFSCME members in Illinois, passing a resolution denouncing virulently anti-worker Gov. Bruce Rauner, who has made the annihilation of labor unions his number-one priority. We pledged the national union’s support in the event of a strike.

We also passed a resolution in support of our sisters and brothers in Puerto Rico and their pension and labor rights. We passed a resolution demanding a Senate vote on U.S. Supreme Court nominee Merrick Garland. And recognizing the importance of two of the nation’s most powerful union’s collaborating together more closely, delegates passed a resolution embracing greater coordination between AFSCME and SEIU on organizing, political and communications efforts.

We also announced the AFSCME Free College Benefit. AFSCME members, their families and retirees can now obtain an associate degree online — at no cost.

Why We’re with Her

It’s not every day you get to be in a room with the next President of the United States and hear her share a vision of an economy that works for everyone. It was an honor to welcome Sec. Hillary Clinton to our Convention, to hear her speak with passion about her plans to stand up for working families.

“I can’t imagine how we could run our country if we didn’t have people like you,” she told us, promising, “I will be by your side in this fight every step of the way.”

AFSCME members nationwide will work their hearts out this fall, pounding the pavement to ensure she wins. No question about it: We’re with her.

We have to be. Consider the alternative. This election is a choice between an unstoppable champion and an unstable charlatan. Hillary Clinton is a champion for the middle class, for union rights and equal pay, for affordable health care and retirement security. Donald Trump is a scam artist and hatemonger, whose agenda will destabilize our economy and our country.

We didn’t leave Las Vegas without getting in Trump’s face. He refuses to negotiate a union contract with employees at the Trump International Hotel. So AFSCME went out in the blistering desert heat to rally with our sisters and brothers in Culinary Union Local 226 and Bartenders Local 165, saying loudly and clearly that you don’t make America great by busting unions and attacking working people.

Trump has since settled a dispute with two culinary workers, and the National Labor Relations Board has reaffirmed the union rights of Trump's Las Vegas employees.

“What Happens Here…”

You know the famous Las Vegas slogan: “What happens here, stays here.” Well, not in our case. Because what happened at our Convention — a renewed commitment to our union, to never quit fighting for our rights, for public services, and for each other — doesn’t stay there. It comes home with us. We will bring it to life every day in our communities.

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Keeping Our Children Safe http://www.afscme.org/blog/keeping-our-children-safe Mon, 19 Sep 2016 07:07:00 -0500 http://www.afscme.org/blog/keeping-our-children-safe Rebekah Wright works for the Ohio State School for the Blind. She’s worn different hats there, including in its music department, which is home to the nation’s only blind marching band.

“Those kids are absolutely amazing!” she boasts.

Wright, a maintenance repair worker for the school and member of the Ohio Civil Service Employees Association (AFSCME Local 11), cares about the children she serves and does her best to improve her community one day at a time.

As a mother of three children who is married to a police detective, community safety is also a top priority for her. So when her children’s school several years ago invited parents to fill out child identification kits from the National Child Identification Program, she didn’t hesitate.

“I thought it was a great way to keep track of your children in the event of a crisis,” she says.

AFSCME is partnering with the American Football Coaches Association and National Child Identification Program to provide free ID kits to all of our members nationwide (they will be mailed with the next issue of AFSCME WORKS magazine). The kits come with easy-to-follow instructions for collecting your child’s personal information, including fingerprints and DNA. The completed kit should be kept in a safe place in the home.

A Close Call

Dianne Glasco’s children are all grown up. But when she heard that AFSCME was sending free child ID kits to all its members, she thought of her three young grandchildren.

“I would feel safer if my son and daughter did it for their children,” says Glasco, a member of AFSCME Local 3400 (Council 5). “It sounds like it would be easier to find them wherever they were.”

As a child care provider for 11 years, Glasco knows a thing or two about keeping children safe. She works out of her home, where the older children play in an outdoor fenced-in area. From a deck by the kitchen window, she can both keep an eye on the older kids while keeping an ear out for the little ones napping inside.

One day, some of the children were playing outside when a man showed up riding a bicycle. He was a father of one of the children. The child’s parents were divorced.

“He just showed up out of the blue to take the child,” Glasco says. “He wasn’t supposed to be there. And he would have taken the child if I had just gone inside to get water a few minutes before. I had to call the police. It was scary!”

‘It’s Better to Be Prepared’

It is estimated that as many as 800,000 children are reported missing in the United States each year. More than half of these children run away from home, while others are abducted by family members or even strangers. Child ID kits can help law enforcement locate a missing child by using key pieces of personal information contained in them. The kits are also the FBI’s preferred method of child identification.

More than 26 million kits have been distributed since the program began in 1997.

“Unfortunately, in this day and age, it’s better to be prepared,” Wright says. “Hopefully there’s never a crisis, but in the event that there is, you have everything compiled in one place to expedite the process in case a child goes missing.”

In partnering with the National Child Identification Program, AFSCME joins several unions and dozens of community, faith and athletic organizations to make sure that every family is prepared and every child is brought back home. It’s easy to gather your child’s or grandchild’s information—and it could make all the difference in the future.

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15 Years Ago: Remembering 9/11 First Responders and Victims http://www.afscme.org/blog/15-years-ago-remembering-911-first-responders-and-victims Sun, 11 Sep 2016 09:00:00 -0500 http://www.afscme.org/blog/15-years-ago-remembering-911-first-responders-and-victims As we pause to reflect on the tragedy of the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks 15 years ago, let’s not forget that of the nearly 3,000 lives lost – in New York City, Washington, DC, and Shanksville, Pennsylvania – more than 400 were first responders who placed their own lives at risk to save others.

Many first responders and other workers who rushed to Ground Zero to rescue victims and clear debris survived the initial attacks, only to be struck down later with illnesses – and death – related to the lead, asbestos and other toxic materials they breathed after the towers collapsed.

The victims included James Zadroga, a New York City Police Department (NYPD) officer and 34-year-old father of a 4-year-old girl. He died after inhaling toxic substances during the hundreds of hours he spent at Ground Zero searching for victims’ remains. The James Zadroga 9/11 Health and Compensation Act, named in his honor, is the most important of the programs created for victims in the aftermath of 9/11.

AFSCME fought hard for the Zadroga law’s renewal. Congress voted last December to extend the program so that people will continue to receive monitoring and treatment for 9/11-related health problems for the next 75 years.

AFSCME’s DC 37 – whose office sat in the shadow of the World Trade Center – was a leader in the campaign to create and renew the Zadroga law, as well as other health support programs.

Several AFSCME DC 37 members and first responders died in the attacks. One of the first was Father Mychal F. Judge, 68. A New York Fire Department chaplain (Local 299), he rushed to the World Trade Center after the first hijacked plane struck it. “Father Mike,” as friends called him, was killed by falling debris while administering last rites to a mortally injured firefighter.

Five members of Civil Service Employees Association (CSEA)/AFSCME Local 1000 also perished that day. They were employees of the state Office of Taxation and Finance, based at the World Trade Center.

For more about AFSCME first responders and other members in New York in the aftermath of the attack, click here.  Also, visit AFSCME.org/we-remember to view the video, “We Remember 9/11: A Decade Later,” honoring the workers who responded to the terrorist attacks, and in the aftermath.

AFSCME salutes the first responders to any natural disaster or human attack. They never quit serving their communities, even at the risk of their own lives. They are true heroes, doing what they do every day not because of a paycheck, but because it is a calling.

Thank you.

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AFSCME Rallies with Mine Workers to Keep the Promise http://www.afscme.org/blog/afscme-rallies-with-mine-workers-to-keep-the-promise Fri, 09 Sep 2016 11:57:00 -0500 http://www.afscme.org/blog/afscme-rallies-with-mine-workers-to-keep-the-promise AFSCME joined thousands of coal miners on Thursday to demand that Congress approve legislation to secure their retiree healthcare and pension benefits.

Seventy years ago, U.S. Pres. Harry Truman brokered an agreement with the United Mine Workers of America (UMWA) to create the UMWA Health and Welfare Funds. Known as “The Promise of 1946,” it guaranteed lifetime retirement benefits to coal miners, their spouses and dependents. And the promise has been kept – until now.

Private companies in the coal industry that have declared bankruptcy have shirked their obligation to provide retiree healthcare benefits to coal miners and contribute to the UMWA pension fund. If Congress doesn’t act to secure these benefits, thousands of coal miners and their families could lose them by the end of the year.

The rally was led by UMWA Pres. Cecil Roberts, who introduced several speakers including Ohio Sens. Sherrod Brown and Rob Portman, Oregon Sen. Ron Wyden, Pennsylvania Sen. Bob Casey Jr. and West Virginia Sen. Shelley Moore Capito.

The speakers underscored that the miners are asking for earned benefits, not handouts, and that the federal government must keep its promise to them.

“We need to pay our mine workers back for what they did for the United States of America,” said Senator Brown.

“A promise made is a promise kept,” said Senator Moore Capito. “It’s a fairness issue. It’s about family and hard work.”

AFSCME was among other unions and progressive organizations that joined the rally, including members of the Ironworkers, the Teamsters, the Kentucky AFL-CIO, Jobs with Justice and Unite Here.

Congress is expected to take up the legislation next week.

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Peeps Candy Workers Strike http://www.afscme.org/blog/peeps-candy-workers-strike Thu, 08 Sep 2016 12:02:00 -0500 http://www.afscme.org/blog/peeps-candy-workers-strike Horsham, Pa. – Four hundred BCTGM Local 6 members at Just Born Inc. in Bethlehem, Pa., unanimously voted to go on strike after rejecting the company’s last offer. Workers began taking their places on the picket line yesterday afternoon.

In contract negotiations that began in May, Just Born proposed eliminating the workers’ pension plan, offered substandard market wage increases while increasing the workers’ share of health insurance costs. While the union proposed modifications to the health insurance plan that would have offered the company substantial savings, the company refused. On September 2 workers voted overwhelmingly to strike to maintain the benefits and standard of living they had earned over decades of service.

Local 6 has represented the candy workers at the plant since the 1950s. Besides marshmallow Peeps, the company is known for its non-chocolate candy products Mike and Ike, Teenee Beanee jelly beans and Hot Tamales. Just Born purchased the Goldenberg Candy Company in 2003, retaining its Philadelphia factory where BCTGM members produce Goldenberg’s Peanut Chews.

“The workers at the company’s Peeps plant have devoted much of their lives to producing these iconic Just Born candies. And the company has benefited from their skills and dedication through soaring profits. Workers deserve to be treated fairly with reasonable wage increases and a pension that allows them to retire with dignity,” notes Hank McKay, president of BCTGM Local 6.

Just Born is a privately held, family-owned, company with sales of $230 million. Originally incorporated in 1923 in New York City, Just Born currently operates out of Bethlehem, where it’s been located since 1932.

(Crossposted from The Bakery, Confectionary, Tobacco Workers and Grain Millers International Union)

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All They Want is Respect – and a Fair Contract http://www.afscme.org/blog/all-they-want-is-respect-and-a-fair-contract Tue, 06 Sep 2016 16:55:00 -0500 http://www.afscme.org/blog/all-they-want-is-respect-and-a-fair-contract Just days before the nation celebrated Labor Day – a time that Americans honor working people – more than 1,000 public service workers in Washington State rallied at the Capitol in Olympia to make a bold statement about respect. They’re still waiting for the governor to show them some respect, too.

Respect – or the lack of it, in this case – stems from the governor’s refusal to offer the state’s workers a two-year contract that reflects the work they do. That would be a contract like the one proposed by Washington Federation of State Employees, (WFSE)/AFSCME Council 28.

Council 28’s bargaining team presented the state with a fair compensation proposal that would bring competitive pay to the 30,000 state agency workers covered by the contract. The proposal was backed by a recent state salary study that showed nearly all employees - 99 percent - made less than people doing the same jobs elsewhere. Specifically, it revealed:

  • Two-thirds of state employees’ salary range midpoints were more than 25 percent below the market-level pay.
  • Another 23 percent of state employees’ salary range midpoints were between 12.5 percent and 25 percent below the market.
  • Only 1 percent of state employees were paid at or above the market.

“The package aims to restore state employees’ buying power they in turn can put back into the state economy as we still dig out from the Great Recession,” Council 28’s bargaining team explained. “If this eight-year trend of managing the state’s workforce by eroding benefits, under-compensating, and incentivizing the turnover of skilled and experienced workers continues, we will only see the number of crises and those fleeing public service grow.”

At the union’s state Capitol rally on Aug. 31, Greg Devereux, WFSE’s executive director and an AFSCME International vice president, said the state’s contract proposal offered the night before “showed a lack of respect for the state’s own workers.”

Respect is what this is all about. A contract that includes fair wages and benefits is a contract that respects the workers who perform the tasks that most people never think about until they stop running, or run less-efficiently than the public has come to expect of their government.

This contract, covering the period 2017 to 2019, must be submitted to the governor’s budget office by Oct. 1. So far, however, state negotiators have shown little respect for the workers who never quit providing the critical public services that make Washington state a great place to live.

It’s time the state offer a contract that shows the respect these workers deserve. 

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Make America Great Again http://www.afscme.org/blog/make-america-great-again Fri, 02 Sep 2016 14:39:00 -0500 http://www.afscme.org/blog/make-america-great-again We’ve said it time and again: Union jobs make our country great. And while you enjoy BBQ during your long weekend — extended by Labor Day — you can thank unions for both!

Good union jobs allow workers to earn better wages and benefits like health care and retirement security. Good union jobs help women earn equal pay. And in areas and industries where unions are strong, all workers’ wages are higher because union jobs raise the standard, as we recently learned in a report by the Economic Policy Institute.

The report, “Union Decline Lowers Wages of Nonunion Workers,” confirms what we’ve always said. And unfortunately, the opposite is true too: When union membership declines, so do the wages of all workers. Those particularly hard hit are nonunion men with a high school diploma or less. Their “weekly wages would be an estimated 9 percent ($61) higher if union density remained at its 1979 levels,” according to EPI. “For a year-round worker, this translates to an annual wage loss of about $3,172.” That’s real money — enough to pay more than three month’s average rent.

Union jobs provide other benefits that allow working families to reach the middle class — retirement plans, paid family and sick leave, and high-quality health insurance. Unions also close the inequality gap and increase the middle-class share of the nation’s total income. That’s why it’s important to strengthen laws that make it easier for workers to join unions.

We need leaders who understand all this. Hillary Clinton, AFSCME’s endorsed candidate for President, has proudly declared that “when unions are strong, America is strong!” As a senator from New York, Clinton was an original co-sponsor of the Employee Free Choice Act, which would have made it easier for working people to organize together in unions. Clinton supports raising the minimum wage, protecting workers from exploitation and wage theft, and strengthening bargaining rights. Clinton knows that unions helped build the middle class before and are key to making America great again.

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When There’s a Drop in Union Jobs, All Workers Earn Less http://www.afscme.org/blog/when-theres-a-drop-in-union-jobs-all-workers-earn-less Tue, 30 Aug 2016 17:02:00 -0500 http://www.afscme.org/blog/when-theres-a-drop-in-union-jobs-all-workers-earn-less Today, the Economic Policy Institute released a paper called “Union Decline Lowers Wages of Nonunion Workers: The Overlooked Reason Why Wages Are Stuck and Inequality Is Growing.”

Washington University sociologist Jake Rosenfeld and co-authors find that the dramatic decline in union density since 1979 has resulted in far lower wages for nonunion workers, an impact larger than the 5 percent effect of globalization on their wages found in recent research.

Specifically, nonunion men lacking a college degree would have earned 8 percent, or $3,016 annually, more in 2013 if unions had remained as strong as they were in 1979.

Between 1979 and 2013, the share of private sector workers in a union has fallen from about 34 percent to 11 percent among men, and from 16 percent to 6 percent among women. The authors note that unions keep wages high for nonunion workers for several reasons: Union agreements set wage standards and a strong union presence prompts managers to keep wages high in order to prevent workers from organizing or their employees from leaving. Moreover, unions set industry-wide norms, influencing what is seen as a “moral economy.”

Rosenfeld makes the point that working class men have felt the decline in unionization the hardest and that their paychecks are noticeably smaller than if unions had remained as strong as they were almost 40 years ago. And that rebuilding collective bargaining is one of the tools we have to reinvigorate wage growth, for low and middle-wage workers.

Rosenfeld, along with his co-authors find that the effects of union decline on the wages of nonunion women are not as substantial because women were not as heavily represented in unionized private sector jobs. The authors note, however, that any substantial growth in collective bargaining would be expected to have as much or more impact on women as men. Specifically, the authors find that women’s wages would be 2 to 3 percent higher if unions had stayed at their 1979 levels. Their study also reveals that private sector nonunion men of all education levels would earn 5 percent ($52) higher weekly wages in 2013 if private-sector union density (the share of workers in similar industries and regions who are union members) remained at its 1979 level, an increase of $2,704 in annual paychecks for full-time employees.

This is the first study providing a broad estimate of the wage decline for nonunion workers as the result of the erosion of unions.

This decline in unions has eroded wages for nonunion workers at every level of education and experience, costing billions in lost wages. For the 32.9 million full-time nonunion private sector women and 40.2 million full-time private sector men, there is a $133 billion loss in annual wages because of weakened unions.

Given dramatically weakened unions, their effect on nonunion wages has declined over time: These effects have fallen to between one-half and two-thirds of their late-1970s levels.

Union decline has exacerbated wage inequality in the U.S. by dampening the pay of nonunion workers as well as by eroding the share of workers directly benefitting from unionization: Union erosion can explain a third of the growth of wage inequality among men and one-fifth of the rise of wage inequality among women. At least for middle-wage men, the impact of the erosion of unions on the wages of both union and nonunion workers is likely the largest single factor underlying wage stagnation and wage inequality.

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AFSCME Workers Protests Lead to New Jobs, Lighter Caseloads http://www.afscme.org/blog/afscme-workers-protests-lead-to-new-jobs-lighter-caseloads Wed, 24 Aug 2016 10:22:00 -0500 http://www.afscme.org/blog/afscme-workers-protests-lead-to-new-jobs-lighter-caseloads St. Louis County, Minnesota will hire 30 additional workers in its Public Health and Human Services Department and Initial Intervention Unit, to help deal with staffing shortages and heavy caseloads, following protests by AFSCME Local 66 (Council 5) members.

“We’re very happy that we’re getting new workers,” said Kelly Crow, a child protection social worker in Hibbing. “There’s a huge need, not only in our department but in other departments. This is a good start.”

“It’s not the solution, it’s just the tip of the iceberg,” added Local 66 Pres. Dennis Frazier. “It’s a step in the right direction.”

Commissioners acted after more than 60 AFSCME members and county workers marched in Virginia and Hibbing, carrying signs saying, “Understaffed, underserved.” They drew attention to how staffing shortages and heavy caseloads are hurting workers and the children and families they serve. AFSCME members also met directly with some county commissioners, attended board meetings and screened board candidates for worker-friendly values.

“A lot of people have gotten involved in making change and realizing it’s up to us to do that,” Crow said.

As reported by the Duluth News Tribune, staffing shortages have gotten so serious the county’s new head of Public Health and Human Services quit after just two months, citing in part a lack of resources. In northwest Minnesota, Children and Family Services workers must deal with a shortage of affordable housing, layoffs and factory shutdowns.

“We’re fifth in population but first in many categories you don’t want to finish first in, like opioid addiction,” Frazier said. “We’ve got 800 kids in foster care. Referrals are up 45 percent. We’ve been understaffed and overwhelmed for years.”

When workers learned the county was hiring more people, there was a sense of relief, said financial worker Jessica Anderson, a member of the Local 66 Executive Board and part of the Next Wave Minnesota group of young AFSCME members.

“It was such a load off. I just hope it helps relieve some of that ‘Oh my God’ crisis mode. I hope we can help the community in a more timely and accurate manner,” Anderson said.

Financial worker Kathy Vake believes every area of Public Health and Human Services lacks enough staff. When she started working here, she and her desk partner shared a caseload of 600. Now they’re at 1,100.

Local 66 plans to keep pushing for more hiring and less outsourcing to better serve children and their families. “I’m grateful for the help the county has given us, but they just need to keep doing it,” said Vake.

St. Louis County workers in Virginia protest understaffing in Public Health and Human Services (Photo by Kathy Vake)
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Coups de Main to Lift up Louisianans in Their Time of Need http://www.afscme.org/blog/coups-de-main-to-lift-up-louisianans-in-their-time-of-need Tue, 23 Aug 2016 13:39:00 -0500 http://www.afscme.org/blog/coups-de-main-to-lift-up-louisianans-in-their-time-of-need “Coups de main” is a Cajun phrase that means lending a helping hand to community members in their time of need. AFSCME Volunteer Member Organizers (VMOs) recently had an opportunity to show their “coups de main,” by helping lift Louisianans in need in flood-ravaged Baton Rouge.

Ina LaBorde, AFSCME Council 17 Council representative and her daughter, Lyn Ray, Catholic Student Organization director at Louisiana State University at Alexandria (LSUA) wanted to find a way to make a concrete and meaningful impact for their fellow Louisianans who are now piecing together their lives. More than 40,000 people across 20 parishes in the Baton Rouge area were affected, days after heavy rainfall led to the historic flooding.

Ray believed she could contribute to relief efforts in Baton Rouge by delivering items that people depend on from day to day: goods like toiletries, cleaning supplies and hand sanitizer, and comfort items like new bedding, clean socks — even some sweet tea.

But Ray knew should couldn’t do it alone. She would need a dedicated crew of people to power her vision. That’s when LaBorde sprang to action and tapped a source that she knew could depend on: VMOs. And they eagerly lent a hand.

Approximately 40 VMOs, members and other volunteers assembled at the LSUA Catholic Student Center to unload trucks and sort donated items to deliver to the St. Vincent de Paul shelter in Denham Springs in Livingstone Parish, an area hard-hit by the floods.

Cleaning items and supplies will be delivered to the Greenwell Springs neighborhood in East Baton Rouge Parish to help clean up flooded homes that still maintained their structural integrity. Residents there still face a big clean-up effort, including disposing destroyed furniture and other items. 

“I was very excited to be involved with something so important to the members and the community,” said Sheila Conroy, an AFSCME VMO from New York.

Sheryl Lilya, an AFSCME VMO from Minnesota, was also excited about her involvement in the action.

“Seeing the amount of giving and being able to help in any way was wonderful,” Lilya said.

Ray expressed deep appreciation for the hard work of the VMOs throughout the afternoon to help Louisianans emerge stronger after the flood’s devastation.

“I can’t thank you enough,” Ray said. “We couldn’t handle this ourselves.”

To donate to victims of the Louisiana flooding, you can contribute to the AFSCME Fallen Heroes Fund.

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African American Women’s Equal Pay Day Is August 23 http://www.afscme.org/blog/african-american-womens-equal-pay-day-is-august-23 Tue, 23 Aug 2016 09:00:00 -0500 http://www.afscme.org/blog/african-american-womens-equal-pay-day-is-august-23 This year, we recognize African-American women’s Equal Pay Day today, August 23. This marks the symbolic day that the earnings of African-American women will catch up to their white, non-Hispanic male counterparts’ earnings from last year.

We use the latest Census Bureau figures on earnings to calculate the wage gaps for women, including Latinas, mothers, and African-American women. And in 2014 (the latest available data), African-American women earned 60.5 cents for every $1 her white, non-Hispanic male counterpart earned.

Translation? African-American women have to work nearly eight months, or 238 days into the next year, to earn as much as white, non-Hispanic men did in the previous year alone. And based on today’s wage gap, that means African-American women would lose a staggering $877,480 over the course of a 40-year career compared to white, non-Hispanic men.

So, yes, when we compare all women to all men, Equal Pay Day is in April. But we must acknowledge that African-American women face particularly steep and difficult obstacles when it comes to achieving equal pay. That’s why today we’ll be joining with our allies around the country to call for an end to the wage gap, particularly for African-American women. Want to join in? Make sure to use the hashtag #BlackWomensEqualPay on your social channels and join us for a Twitter storm on August 23rd, from 2-3 PM EST.

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Union Plus Offers Help for Victims of Louisiana Floods http://www.afscme.org/blog/union-plus-offers-help-for-victims-of-louisiana-floods Fri, 19 Aug 2016 17:41:00 -0500 http://www.afscme.org/blog/union-plus-offers-help-for-victims-of-louisiana-floods Help is available to union members affected by the recent flooding in Louisiana that has claimed at least 13 lives, damaged an estimated 40,000 houses, and forced approximately 86,000 people to apply for federal disaster aid.

If you are a union member in the affected area who also participates in certain Union Plus programs, you may be eligible for financial assistance. Union Plus Disaster Relief Grants of $500 are available to eligible members who have a Union Plus Credit Card1, Union Plus Life or Accidental Death Insurance, Union Plus Auto Insurance, or Union Plus Mortgage.

AFSCME members who participate in any of those programs can also call:

  • Union Plus credit card: 1-800-622-2580 (have your credit card number available)
  • Union Plus Insurance: 1-800-472-2005
  • Union Plus Mortgage: 1-800-472-2005

The Union Plus Disaster Relief Fund has provided nearly $1 million in assistance to union members facing hardships following Hurricanes Sandy and Katrina, floods, wild fires and other natural disasters.

Click here to visit Union Plus Disaster Relief and learn more about the eligibility requirements and how to apply. 

If you are not involved in the Union Plus program, there are federal disaster aid programs through FEMA that can assist those affected by the floods. To learn about the types of assistance available, click here. The Small Business Administration also provides loans to affected homeowners, whether or not they own a small business. Learn more here. You can also call the disaster assistance center at (800) 659-2955, or email disastercustomerservice@sba.gov.

Please direct questions to your council or local if you need more information.


1Union Plus Credit Cards are issued by Capital One, N.A. pursuant to a license by MasterCard International Incorporated.

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Child Care Workers Should Not Have to Live in Poverty http://www.afscme.org/blog/child-care-workers-should-not-have-to-live-in-poverty Fri, 19 Aug 2016 11:19:00 -0500 http://www.afscme.org/blog/child-care-workers-should-not-have-to-live-in-poverty The need to make child care more affordable for families has been an issue in the Presidential race. But not enough attention has been given to the people – mostly women – who provide that care. That’s too bad, because nearly half of the nation’s child care workers are in families that receive food stamps, welfare or other federal support, according to a new report.

Researchers at the University of California-Berkeley found that, last year, 46 percent of child care providers lived in families enrolled in at least one of the social safety net programs: SNAP (food stamps), TANF (welfare), Medicaid or the Federal Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC). That compares with slightly over a quarter of the total U.S. workforce that is enrolled in such programs.

These providers – an “almost exclusively female workforce,” according to the researchers – earn a median hourly wage of just $9.77. That’s less than a janitor is paid, on average. “Nationally, child care workers are nearly in the bottom percentile (second) when all oc­cupations are ranked by annual earnings,” the report said.

“Our nation relies on their knowledge and skills to provide high-quality early care and education to our increasingly diverse popu­lation of children and families,” the authors wrote. “Yet our system of preparing, supporting, and rewarding early educators in the United States remains largely ineffective, inefficient, and inequita­ble.”

Without a change in state and federal policies that address this issue, they added, “our nation will remain unable to deliver on the promise of develop­mental and learning opportunities for all children.”

The authors – led by Marcy Whitebook, director of the Center for the Study of Child Care Employment at the University of California-Berkeley – recommended several strategies to improve child care worker compensation, including identifying ongoing sources of funding “to ensure sustainable raises in base pay, in order to substantially improve the economic circumstances of early educators and to ensure the ability to attract and retain a skilled workforce.”

It will take political willpower to increase the wages of child care providers, but the consequences of not doing so may be felt by the next generation.

“We’re entrusting children to people who are really struggling to feed their own families,” said Whitebook in an interview about the report in the Washington Post. “They’re managing all this stress, which is distracting to all the important work they have to do.”

It’s at the state level where the changes must be made. “State policies play a powerful role in shaping early childhood jobs and, in turn, the qual­ity of early learning experiences available to young children,” the report notes.

AFSCME, which represents thousands of child care workers nationwide, supports state initiatives to raise child care compensation. In California, UDW Homecare Providers Union/AFSCME Local 3930 is working with state lawmakers to raise subsidy rates for family child care providers who earn, on average, just $4.98 per hour after accounting for expenses, according to the coalition, “Raising California Together,” of which UDW is a member. Higher rates will make it “easier for them to afford their work-related expenses and keep their day cares open for business,” wrote UDW Exec. Dir. Doug Moore in a recent column on our blog.

“These problems add up to decreased access to quality, affordable child care and early learning opportunities for our children,” wrote Moore, also an AFSCME International vice president. “But there is a solution: Make an investment in family child care providers to increase families’ access to child care.”

Hillary Clinton, AFSCME’s endorsed candidate for President, is committed to raising wages for America’s child care workforce. “Hillary will create the Respect and Increased Salaries for Early Childhood Educators (RAISE) initiative,” her campaign website says. “In line with Clinton’s Care Workers Initiative, RAISE will fund and support states and local communities that work to increase the compensation of child care providers and early educators and provide equity with kindergarten teachers by investing in educational opportunities, career ladders, and professional salaries.”

AFSCME will work to elect Secretary Clinton so she can carry out her pledge to the nation’s child care workers. They – and the next generation – depend on her.

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It’s About Time – Federal Government to End Use of For-Profit Prison Operators http://www.afscme.org/blog/its-about-time-federal-government-to-end-use-of-for-profit-prison-operators Thu, 18 Aug 2016 15:12:00 -0500 http://www.afscme.org/blog/its-about-time-federal-government-to-end-use-of-for-profit-prison-operators AFSCME applauds the Justice Department’s decision to end the use of private, for-profit firms to run America’s federal prisons. It’s a judgment that rests on principles we have long asserted – not only that the cost-savings promised by these firms are illusory but that they jeopardize the safety of prisoners and the corrections employees who work in these facilities.

The announcement, by Deputy Attorney General Sally Yates, was made in a memo reported this morning by the Washington Post. Yates wrote that – compared to facilities operated by the federal Bureau of Prisons – privately run prisons “simply do not provide the same level of correctional services, programs, and resources; they do not save substantially on costs; and as noted in a recent report by the Department’s Office of Inspector General, they do not maintain the same level of safety and security.”

The Inspector General’s report, released last week, states that, “in most key areas, contract prisons incurred more safety and security incidents per capita than comparable BOP [Bureau of Prison] institutions,” and that, “in recent years, disturbances in several federal contract prisons resulted in extensive property damage, bodily injury, and the death of a correctional officer.”

For-profit prisons “had more frequent incidents of contraband finds, assaults, uses of force, lockdowns, guilty findings on inmate discipline charges, and selected categories of grievances,” the report added.

Privately run federal prisons housed approximately 22,660 federal inmates (12 percent of the total inmate population), the report stated. Three for-profit firms operate these facilities: Corrections Corporation of America (CCA); the GEO Group, Inc.; and Management and Training Corporation (MTC).

“Whether at the federal or state and local level, private prison operations have long been a stain on our nation’s criminal justice system,” said AFSCME Pres. Lee Saunders. “They have not kept us secure, nor have they delivered savings to the taxpayers – instead, corporate prisons have profited off of the suffering of our communities and have led the way to mass incarceration and the immoral detention of immigrant families in privately operated facilities that just this week were revealed in reports to be wasting taxpayer money.”

AFSCME Corrections United, which represents approximately 62,000 corrections officers and 23,000 corrections employees, has long advocated ending the use of private prison operators in federal, state and local facilities. We have written extensively on the history and shortcomings of outsourcing, issued a report on how private prison operators profit from campaign contributions, and revealed how backroom deals enrich private prison operators at taxpayers’ expense. We’ve also debunked the empty promises of private prison operators.

Now that the federal government has come to the same conclusions that we have, it is our hope that state lawmakers will follow suit and end their contracts with private prison operators. Private prison companies put profits over the best interests of the citizens whose taxes pay for these critical public services.

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Getting a Free College Degree Is Easier than Ever http://www.afscme.org/blog/getting-a-free-college-degree-is-easier-than-ever Tue, 09 Aug 2016 14:57:00 -0500 http://www.afscme.org/blog/getting-a-free-college-degree-is-easier-than-ever

Watch this video to hear Beverly Payne, Richard Anderson and other AFSCME members talk about the value of the AFSCME Free College benefit. Learn more about the AFSCME Free College benefit and how to enroll at http://freecollege.afscme.org/

Getting a college degree was not in the cards for Beverly Payne, who worked at an Ohio preschool for 30 years while raising four children. She never had time to further her education, she said. Now, the deck is stacked in her favor – at the age of 71 – thanks to the AFSCME Free College benefit.

“When this opportunity came up, I’m thinking – know what? I don’t care how old I am. I’m going to try this,” said Payne, a member of the Ohio Association of Public School Employees (OAPSE)/AFSCME Local 4.

As a secretary and transportation coordinator for a pre-school in Crestline, Payne knows the value of giving a child every opportunity to learn and grow. It’s no surprise, therefore, that she was eager to take advantage of this benefit, which was offered in Ohio for a year and which is now expanded to AFSCME members and their families throughout the country.

Hundreds have already taken advantage of the program, including Payne. In fact, it’s a family affair. Payne said one daughter is already enrolled, and a second daughter and son-in-law are looking into it, and a third daughter – who already has a bachelor’s degree – is also thinking of enrolling in additional courses to further her career.

Last month, at our 42nd International Convention, Pres. Lee Saunders announced the national rollout this summer of the AFSCME Free College benefit. “That’s how we empower public service workers,” he told Convention delegates. “That’s how AFSCME never quits helping its members.”

Here’s how it works. AFSCME, in partnership with Eastern Gateway Community College – an accredited, non-profit institution and a member of the University System of Ohio – is offering retirees, members and their families (spouses, domestic partners, children and grandchildren) an opportunity to enroll in a program to earn an associate degree online from anywhere in the country. Credits can also be transferred to most four-year public universities.

There are no out-of-pocket costs. That’s right – no burdensome student loans are needed. The Free College benefit combines Pell grants and employer reimbursements with AFSCME's “last dollar scholarship,” which covers all remaining costs after federal or state grants and employer reimbursements are applied. Together, these funds cover the full tuition amount for participating degree programs.

Even if an applicant is not eligible for federal, state, or employer financial aid, AFSCME's last dollar scholarship will still be applied to the remaining balance for tuition and fees.

“It’s very difficult juggling a full-time job and a family, but quitting’s not an option for me,” said Richard Anderson, a corrections officer at Ohio State Penitentiary and a steward in his union, Ohio Civil Service Employees Association /AFSCME Local 11.

“This is a life achievement to go to college and graduate with a degree,” he said. “And it just makes life a lot easier, especially if you have children. It’s definitely setting the right goals and the right way of doing things, by showing them it’s never too late to continue your education to help you to better your life.”

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The Voting Rights Act at 51: Why It Must Be Restored to its Full Power http://www.afscme.org/blog/the-voting-rights-act-at-51-why-it-must-be-restored-to-its-full-power Sat, 06 Aug 2016 08:00:00 -0500 http://www.afscme.org/blog/the-voting-rights-act-at-51-why-it-must-be-restored-to-its-full-power The 51st anniversary of the Voting Rights Act (VRA) is August 6. Signed by Pres. Lyndon B. Johnson, the law sought to make sure African Americans – and all Americans – could exercise their right to vote freely. Unfortunately, exercising one of democracy’s most cherished rights remains a challenge for too many people.

The VRA was meant to end race-based barriers to the voting booth, such as poll taxes and literacy tests that Southern states, in particular, used to keep African-Americans from voting. Over time, because of the law, many of those barriers came down. Then, in 2013, the conservative majority on the Supreme Court issued a ruling in Shelby County v. Holder, which held that a key provision of the VRA was unconstitutional.

The ink barely dried on that decision before the drive to suppress votes resumed, mostly in the form of voter identification (ID) laws aimed at keeping African Americans, other people of color and young voters away from the polling booths. North Carolina passed its voter ID law just days after the Shelby ruling.

Proponents of voter ID laws ostensibly claim concern about voter fraud. Yet experts keep looking for instances of rampant voter fraud – and they keep coming up empty. People have a greater chance to be struck by lightning than commit voter fraud, according to the Brennan Center for Justice.

The Department of Justice also found “no apparent cases of in-person voter impersonation” after a review of its databases and other sources. That’s the same conclusion drawn from academic studies and investigative reports by journalists.

That is increasingly the view of the courts as well. Recently, courts have either limited or struck down voting restrictions in several states.  

A federal appeals court last month struck down North Carolina’s voter ID law, describing its provisions as a way to deliberately “target African-Americans with almost surgical precision” in an effort to reduce black turnout during elections.

Another federal court found that the Texas voter ID law violated the VRA. A federal judge also found parts of Wisconsin’s voter ID unconstitutional, and North Dakota’s voter ID law was blocked by a federal judge who said it unfairly burdened Native Americans. In Kansas, a judge blocked the state’s two-tier voting system, which required proof of citizenship to vote in local and state elections, but not in federal elections.

These victories underscore the true intent of voter ID laws – to deprive certain groups of citizens of the right to cast a vote. Unfortunately, that still leaves 15 states with new voting restrictions, just in time for the November elections.

Those are 15 reasons why we need to restore the VRA by passing the Voting Rights Advancement Act, pending before Congress.

VRA made a big, bold step in the right direction 51 years ago for the full right of the ballot box. It’s only right to honor that achievement. But we will really honor that achievement when the right to access and exercise the vote is fully protected.

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Victory for Seniors: AARP Drops Membership in Right-Wing ALEC http://www.afscme.org/blog/victory-for-seniors-aarp-drops-membership-in-right-wing-alec Fri, 05 Aug 2016 15:32:00 -0500 http://www.afscme.org/blog/victory-for-seniors-aarp-drops-membership-in-right-wing-alec AARP, acting in response to calls by a coalition led by AFSCME to withdraw its support for the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), has decided it will not renew its membership in the right-wing group.

"We will not renew our membership to ALEC,” AARP said in an email to Politico’s Anna Palmer. AARP reiterated its decision on its Facebook page, and added, “We would never work against the interests of older Americans and our engagement with ALEC was NOT an endorsement of the organization’s policies, but an opportunity to engage with state legislators and advance our members’ priorities.

The coalition had just begun circulating an organizational sign-on letter calling on AARP to cut ties with ALEC, pointing to the organizations history of crafting and pushing model legislation that would threaten retirement security, harm seniors, undermine workers’ rights and damage the environment, among other issues that are part of its corporate-backed agenda.  ALEC is funded by right-wing extremists such as the billionaire Koch brothers.

“ALEC has been at the forefront of protecting drug companies and their ability to charge unreasonable prices, has been a strong advocate against the Affordable Care Act and has opposed Medicaid expansion, forcing lower-income retirees to make terrible choices between paying medical bills and buying groceries,” the letter stated. “ALEC pushed voter ID laws that make it harder, not easier for seniors and people of color to vote. ALEC also blocks action on climate change, causing irreparable harm to the world we will leave our children and grandchildren.”

ALEC’s ties to AARP recently made headlines with news that AARP was on a list of sponsors of ALEC’s 2016 annual meeting in late July. Writing in the Los Angeles Times, Michael Hiltzik noted:

“ALEC has pushed for the repeal of the Affordable Care Act, which has saved Medicare enrollees millions of dollars by closing the Medicare drug benefit ‘donut hole.’ It has opposed Medicaid expansion under Obamacare. It has targeted public pensions, pushing to cap benefits and shift workers toward defined contribution plans, which layer more market risk on individual workers’ shoulders.”

AARP, like AFSCME, is a powerful advocate for retirement security and many other issues affecting retirees and those who are about to leave the workforce. By removing its support for ALEC, AARP has demonstrated that it will not be a partner in ALEC’s extremist agenda.

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America Has Gone Seven Years Without a Raise http://www.afscme.org/blog/america-has-gone-seven-years-without-a-raise Tue, 26 Jul 2016 16:16:00 -0500 http://www.afscme.org/blog/america-has-gone-seven-years-without-a-raise It’s now been seven years since the federal hourly minimum wage was raised to $7.25. Since 2009, the cost of living has risen by 11 percent—but many workers are stuck with the same paltry paycheck.

Last year, 2.6 million hourly workers earned wages at or below the $7.25 minimum. More than half were older than 25. For minimum wage workers, even basics like housing are out of reach. If the minimum wage were raised by just 10 percent, the number of people living in poverty in the United States would be reduced by 2.4 percent.

In fact, the minimum wage would need to rise by nearly 25 percent to match the purchasing power of the 1960s wage. During that same period, CEO salaries have increased by more than 700 percent.

If you work, you should make enough to make ends meet. Nobody can support themselves or a family on only $170 a week. The Coalition of Labor Union Women and allied organizations are drawing attention to the outdated minimum wage with the hashtag #RaiseItDamnIt. Please take the opportunity to contact your elected representatives and demand a raise for America’s low-wage workers.

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Reyes Reelected Secretary-Treasurer http://www.afscme.org/blog/reyes-reelected-secretary-treasurer Fri, 22 Jul 2016 08:33:56 -0500 http://www.afscme.org/blog/reyes-reelected-secretary-treasurer AFSCME Sec.-Treas. Laura Reyes was reelected to a second term on Thursday with 912,547 votes. "I’m humbled by this honor, and I look forward to working with President Saunders to continue the progress we've made over the last four years," Reyes said.

Secretary-Treasurer Reyes is the first woman to serve as AFSCME’s secretary-treasurer.

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Delegates Pass Racial Justice and Public Safety Resolution http://www.afscme.org/blog/delegates-pass-racial-justice-and-public-safety-resolution Fri, 22 Jul 2016 08:29:51 -0500 http://www.afscme.org/blog/delegates-pass-racial-justice-and-public-safety-resolution AFSCME delegates on Thursday passed a resolution that affirms our commitment to fighting and winning racial and economic justice, and honors the work of public safety officers who serve and protect the public without regard to race, color and creed.

The resolution reflects Monday’s keynote remarks by President Saunders, who said that we can achieve both law and order and racial justice "if we embrace our common humanity and listen to our better angels."

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