AFSCME.org Blog and Press Release Feed http://www.afscme.org/rss/blog AFSCME.org Blog and Press Release Feed Tue, 3 May 2011 05:00:00 +0000 AMPS en hourly 1 Bring on the Ice Water! http://www.afscme.org/blog/bring-on-the-ice-water Wed, 27 Aug 2014 16:24:00 -0500 http://www.afscme.org/blog/bring-on-the-ice-water In case you haven’t already seen it happening on Facebook, people are raising awareness and donations to fight the neurodegenerative disease amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) with the "ALS Ice Bucket Challenge" by getting their friends and family to dump ice water on their heads.

AFSCME Pres. Lee Saunders was challenged by Jon Stocks of the NEA, Danny Homan of Council 61, and Chris Mabe of OCSEA to take the splash for charity.  AFSCME is making a $1,000 donation to the ALS Association in honor of former staffers and family members Sue Wilmouth, Pearl Coleman, and Wayne Fuller. 

Who’s next?  The president has nominated Richard Trumka, president of the AFL-CIO, Paul Moist, president of the Canadian Union of Public Employees, J. David Cox, president of AFGE, and our Secretary-Treasurer, Laura Reyes.  

To find out more about how you can donate, click on www.alsa.org.

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Chicago Cab Drivers Push Commissioner to Act http://www.afscme.org/blog/chicago-cab-drivers-push-commissioner-to-act Wed, 27 Aug 2014 13:20:00 -0500 http://www.afscme.org/blog/chicago-cab-drivers-push-commissioner-to-act The agency, overseeing the taxi industry in Chicago, held its first-ever town hall meeting for the drivers after more than a thousand AFSCME International Union Convention delegates, Council 31 members and drivers rallied at City Hall.

The drivers had the attention of the city's Department of Business Affairs and Consumer Protection (BACP) and its new commissioner, Maria Guerra Lapacek.

Cab drivers fought back against sweeping City Hall regulations passed two years ago that decimated their rights and income. An AFSCME study released in June found that the changes cost drivers an average $7,500 a year in take-home pay. In just two months, more than 2,000 joined Cab Drivers United.

Much needs to be done to put drivers and their families back on the road to justice, but some changes can be brought about immediately by BACP. At the town hall, a long procession of speakers from Cab Drivers United-AFSCME Council 31 spelled out what the commissioner could do immediately to alleviate some of the hardships they face.

Among the changes the commissioner could implement are lower lease rates, which skyrocketed with the 2012 regulations (while taxi fares remained frozen for nearly a decade), reducing the exorbitant fees charged to credit card fare payments and instituting fair rules.

Confronted by impassioned – and well-informed – testimony from drivers, Commissioner Lapacek acknowledged she could make changes to some of the conditions that undermine drivers. Cab Drivers United will keep up the pressure to make sure that happens.

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Community Rallies to Support Sanitation Workers http://www.afscme.org/blog/community-rallies-to-support-sanitation-workers Wed, 27 Aug 2014 12:52:00 -0500 http://www.afscme.org/blog/community-rallies-to-support-sanitation-workers South Miami, Fla. – A show of support by residents, who joined city workers in a march on City Hall, convinced the South Miami city commissioners to unanimously reject efforts to outsource residential garbage pickups, a major victory for Local 3294.

The day before the vote, city commissioners listened intently to residents who said sanitation workers are like a part of their family, and how they would rather have their taxes raised than to see services suffer through outsourcing. Workers discussed how the contractor, Waste-Pro, would lower labor standards not only for sanitation workers but across the board.

Randolph Brown, a sanitation worker, attended the City Commission’s meeting with his family, teaching his children the value of standing up for themselves and coming together.

“They tried to force Waste-Pro on South Miami. At first, they didn’t want to listen to residents but when they saw our numbers, they went the other way,” he says. “There’s power in numbers.”

“It’s about the people and the quality services they provide,” said 40-year South Miami resident and retired educator Nancy Wilson Young. “Now the commission knows that residents value our sanitation workers and that we’ll be back if they try anything again.”

Although the South Miami outsourcing fight was put to bed, outsourcing threats were revived in North Miami Beach and Hialeah’s sanitation departments.

“Our local and the community we serve have put a stop to outsourcing before and we can do it one more time,” said Janice Coakley, president of North Miami Beach AFSCME Local 3293. “I have faith we’re going to beat it back by standing together.”

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Politicians, Private Prison Companies Capitalize on Immigration Crisis http://www.afscme.org/blog/politicians-private-prison-companies-capitalize-on-immigration-crisis Tue, 26 Aug 2014 13:35:00 -0500 http://www.afscme.org/blog/politicians-private-prison-companies-capitalize-on-immigration-crisis As our nation struggles for a solution to an influx of child refugees from Central America, politicians and private prison companies have stepped forward to capitalize on the crisis. 

Last month, the controversial GEO Group was awarded a contract in Karnes County, Texas, to house more than 500 of the recently arrived immigrant women and children. The decision sparked outrage among community activists, including members of AFSCME Texas Corrections.

“The GEO Group has had a number of lawsuits brought against it for mismanagement, sexual assaults on inmates by staff, and wrongful deaths,” said AFSCME Local 3806 Pres. Richard Salazar. “This unfortunate decision will exacerbate the situation. AFSCME Texas Corrections was instrumental in the recent closings of CCA-run private prisons in Mineral Wells and Dawson for similarly egregious conditions.”

Texas Gov. Rick Perry, a major recipient of contributions from private prison companies – particularly the GEO Group – recently called for the deployment of 1,000 National Guard troops to the border, a move that is expected to score him political points among conservatives as he considers a run for President in 2016.

“It’s about time we hold these politicians accountable and shed light on their corporate backers,” Salazar said. “The millions of dollars that private prison companies had to shell out in legal settlements over the years prove that the industry is nothing more than a drain on taxpayer resources.”

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Minnesota to End Outsourcing of Prison Food Service http://www.afscme.org/blog/minnesota-to-end-outsourcing-of-prison-food-service Tue, 26 Aug 2014 13:31:00 -0500 http://www.afscme.org/blog/minnesota-to-end-outsourcing-of-prison-food-service Food services at Minnesota’s state prisons will be handled by public service employees starting next June, a victory for members of AFSCME Council 5 who documented a number of problems with the current for-profit provider.

Minnesota-based A'viands Food and Service Management will cease doing business with the state once its contract ends, reports AFSCME Council 5, citing an announcement by Department of Corrections Commissioner Tom Roy. The work then will be handled by 64 public employees.

For months, Council 5 corrections locals documented problems with A'viands, including:

• Employees who lack specialized training to properly supervise offenders who work in prison kitchens.

• Running out of food too frequently.

• Serving food that is spoiled or otherwise inedible.

Minnesota AFSCME locals made a persuasive case. Ending outsourcing will improve both food services and prison security.

“When problems in a prison kitchen rile up the inmates, everyone is in harm’s way,” says Eliot Seide, executive director of Council 5 and an AFSCME International vice president. “That’s why we mobilized to end the risky outsourcing of food services. AFSCME correctional officers walk the toughest beats and they deserve to return home safely after every shift.”  

Similar danger is brewing in two other states where food services are outsourced. Privateer Aramark, for instance, was cited in Michigan and Ohio for allowing maggots to infest the prison kitchens. Both states recently slapped the company with hefty fines for violations, and in both states AFSCME demands that outsourcing of food services end.

 

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#WEmatter and We Demand Change http://www.afscme.org/blog/wematter-and-we-demand-change Tue, 26 Aug 2014 12:00:00 -0500 http://www.afscme.org/blog/wematter-and-we-demand-change For too long the needs of women and families have been dismissed by our elected officials, as if women, who make up more than 50 percent of the population, are a special interest group seeking special treatment. It is way past time Congress understood that our issues are not an afterthought but are of critical importance to the economic health and well-being of our nation.

On Tuesday, AFSCME is participating in the Women's Equality Day #WEmatter campaign, a nationwide day of action to tell lawmakers that women -- and the issues we care about -- matter. We are putting them on notice. They can no longer abdicate their responsibility to govern on behalf of all of us and not face the consequences.

When 42 million women and 28 million children live in poverty, it's time for Congress to hear #WEmatter.

When, 51 years after the Equal Pay Act was signed into law, women still earn 77 cents for every dollar a man earns for the same job, it's time for Congress to hear #WEmatter.

When women earning the minimum wage can work full time and still live in poverty, it's time for Congress to hear #WEmatter.

Read the full article here »

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New Jersey Bids Farewell to Labor Hero http://www.afscme.org/blog/new-jersey-bids-farewell-to-labor-hero Fri, 22 Aug 2014 17:53:11 -0500 http://www.afscme.org/blog/new-jersey-bids-farewell-to-labor-hero AFSCME is mourning the passing of former Council 71 executive director and former International Vice Pres. Carolyn J. Holmes, who died Aug. 11 after battling several illnesses.

Sister Holmes retired from AFSCME Council 71 in 2006 after decades of leadership in the fight for human, civil and workers’ rights. Her passion for the labor movement did not end with her retirement. As recently as this past May she signed a new membership card to join AFSCME Retirees. During her tenure as president of Local 2215, the local union’s membership more than tripled.

“Carolyn was an excellent trade unionist who was dedicated to her members,” said Gerard Meara, executive director of Council 73. “She was my friend, but also a friend to all of her members and she served them well.”

Under her leadership, AFSCME in New Jersey became a powerhouse for employee's rights. Her activism and leadership were not limited to Southern New Jersey, as she traveled the nation standing for equality in the workplace for all workers. Sister Holmes also traveled to South Africa, standing with former AFSCME Pres. Gerald McEntee and former Sec.-Treas. Bill Lucy to demand the release of Nelson Mandela and the end of apartheid.

“For Sister Holmes, it was not about a fight for just her members, but a fight for all of our members in New Jersey,” said Richard Gollin, executive director of Council 52. “Her dedication and commitment to the cause helped build a strong labor movement in New Jersey.”

“Carolyn was an inspiration and mentor to me as a member of Local 2215 at Vineland,” said Mattie Harrell, Council 71 executive director and an International vice president. “With her as our leader, we knew we were safe and we had rights. When she called us to action, we stood at the ready to fight for our rights and the rights of others.”

In recognition of Carolyn’s commitment to the movement, the Coalition of Black Trade Unionists established the Carolyn J. Holmes Humanitarian Award.

"Carolyn Holmes was one of the early AFSCME New Jersey pioneers who helped to remove barriers in the workplace,” said Sherryl Gordon, Council 1 executive director. “She was outspoken, committed and saw the need to building a strong New Jersey labor movement. Sister Holmes was a leader who challenged all of us to do more and be involved in our union. Her legacy is rich with examples of strong leadership, compassionate activism and a commitment to building a better world for everyone." 

 

Holmes was born June 3, 1938, in Pahokee, Florida, to the late Joseph (Big Joe) Walker and Roberta Solomon Walker. She is predeceased by her husband W.H. (Sidney) Holmes. She was a loving mother to seven children – Sharon Fuller Bowman (Tom), Tanya Price (Carlton), Rhonda Walker, Tracy Lewis, Glenwood Walker, Sidney Holmes (Chantel), and Nettie Holmes – and 12 grandchildren and 13 great grandchildren.

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NYC District Council 1707 Mourns Loss of Organizing Pioneer http://www.afscme.org/blog/nyc-district-council-1707-mourns-loss-of-organizer-pioneer Wed, 20 Aug 2014 12:54:00 -0500 http://www.afscme.org/blog/nyc-district-council-1707-mourns-loss-of-organizer-pioneer AFSCME District Council 1707 in New York City is mourning the passing of Betty Powell, one of the original organizers and members of the first Head Start local in the nation. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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BBQ & Politics Potent Mix in Kentucky http://www.afscme.org/blog/bbq-politics-potent-mix-in-kentucky Thu, 14 Aug 2014 16:03:45 -0500 http://www.afscme.org/blog/bbq-politics-potent-mix-in-kentucky The green machine was in the house earlier this month at the 134th annual St. Jerome Parish Picnic in Fancy Farm, KY.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Burse has high expectations and demands for his staff.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

You can see highlights of more performances here

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San Jose Cuts Endanger Public Safety http://www.afscme.org/blog/san-jose-cuts-endanger-public-safety Tue, 12 Aug 2014 11:36:00 -0500 http://www.afscme.org/blog/san-jose-cuts-endanger-public-safety Cutting the pay and pensions of city employees has become a public safety issue for one of California’s largest cities.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Read the full article here »

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Is Detroit About to Repeat Chicago’s Parking Meter Debacle? http://www.afscme.org/blog/is-detroit-about-to-repeat-chicagos-parking-meter-debacle Thu, 07 Aug 2014 16:09:00 -0500 http://www.afscme.org/blog/is-detroit-about-to-repeat-chicagos-parking-meter-debacle By In the Public Interest

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

For more information on AFSCME Retirees, click here.

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Shhh! Don’t Make the Rich Guy Feel Uncomfortable http://www.afscme.org/blog/shhh-dont-make-the-rich-guy-feel-uncomfortable Wed, 06 Aug 2014 12:18:00 -0500 http://www.afscme.org/blog/shhh-dont-make-the-rich-guy-feel-uncomfortable Something fishy is going on with Rhode Island’s pension funds. Consider the evidence:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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