Blog and Press Release Feed Blog and Press Release Feed Tue, 3 May 2011 05:00:00 +0000 AMPS en hourly 1 A Little Spark in Jobs for the Fourth Fri, 03 Jul 2015 07:34:00 -0500 As Americans prepare to celebrate the Fourth of July, the U.S. economy continues to show signs of improvement, even as wages remain stagnant. Aside from another positive report on job growth, workers could cheer President Obama’s announcement this week that more workers will be able to qualify for overtime pay.

Last month’s jobs report, released by the Bureau of Labor Statistics Thursday morning, shows that the economy added 223,000 jobs, bringing the unemployment rate down to 5.3 percent. That is the lowest unemployment rate since April 2008.

But most workers’ wages have actually declined in real value in recent years and, with the exception of a few years during the Clinton administration, have declined steadily since the early 1970s.

And there are still 6.5 million people who are working part-time when they’d rather be full-time, a number that hasn’t budged in the past year. In fact, a whopping 40 percent of all those working are now categorized as “contingent” employees, meaning they have part-time, temporary, or on-call employment.

The White House’s new plan for overtime is a step in the right direction. The new rules will raise the income threshold for workers who qualify for overtime pay, meaning many salaried workers making $50,000 a year who were ineligible for overtime previously can now draw overtime for hours worked beyond 40 a week.

“It's one of the single-most important steps we can take to help grow middle-class wages,” the president said in a speech in Wisconsin, where he derided the economic record of Gov. Scott Walker.

This change is long overdue. In 1975, 65 percent of American workers could earn overtime pay. In 2013, only 8 percent of workers qualified. Meanwhile, Americans are putting in record hours for little pay. The Department of Labor estimates that the new eligibility rules will mean a raise for about 5 million people next year.

The minimum wage needs to rise, too. Right now, there is no state in the nation where a minimum wage worker can afford an average one-bedroom apartment without working well over 40 hours per week. That’s why activists and city leaders have been working to implement wage increases in cities from Chicago to Los Angeles to Louisville.

There’s a big difference between simply hiring someone and treating them fairly. AFSCME and other unions are here to insist that we need good, secure jobs that pay a living wage. That’s what a successful economy looks like.

Coordinated Actions Win Raises, Stop State Shutdown Thu, 02 Jul 2015 11:37:00 -0500 OLYMPIA, Wash. – It took thousands of public employees rallying across Washington state at more than 100 locations over two days this May and June to urge state legislators to agree to a sensible budget and avert a shutdown of state services on July 1.

And they won.

Just before the stroke of midnight on June 30, Washington Gov. Jay Inslee signed the new, biennial operating budget that funded AFSCME Council 28 members’ first pay raises in seven years, and holds the line on health care costs.

The budget deal averted a shutdown of state services, including the closure of all state parks, the end of most community supervision of dangerous criminals released from prison and the temporary layoff of 26,000 state employees – about half of the general government workforce.

Council 28 members worked all session with a wide array of activities to pressure the Republicans controlling the state Senate to finally do the right thing. That included the “Unity Breaks” and “Unity Rallies” staged simultaneously on two different days in every corner of the state to stop the possible furlough of half of state agency workers if there was no budget by June 30.

In the end, the Republicans’ proposals to roll back many key collective bargaining rights – proposals written by a conservative think tank – all failed, thanks to the public heat Council 28 members generated.

“Through our member education, our member lobby program, our coordinated statewide in-district actions, our calls, our emails, our constant pressure on the Legislature, we narrowly avoided a state government shutdown,” said April Sims, Council 28’s legislative and political action field coordinator.

With the budget, came the raises – 3 percent July 1 and 1.8 percent July 1, 2016. They were the first since 2008. For two of those years, state workers took 3 percent pay cuts, furloughs and layoffs. The budget also came with no increase to the percentage of health premiums they pay and no new surcharges. 

All across the state AFSCME Strong-trained coaches and activists prepared their coworkers for the unity breaks days in advance by passing out flyers, stickers and T-shirts and gaining commitments from members to participate.

“The Unity Rallies are important because they show we do important work serving the citizens,” said Kellie O'Hair, a gardener at the University of Washington in Seattle and a member of AFSCME Local 1488 who attended the June 18 “Unity Rally.”

“A lot of times it's not just the pay. We just love what we do,” O’Hair added. “Our goal is to be the best state workers we can be. But we need funding to do that.”

Celebrate Workplace Freedom! Thu, 02 Jul 2015 09:59:00 -0500 On this Fourth of July – the day we celebrate the signing of the Declaration of Independence 239 years ago – consider the freedoms you enjoy in your workplace:

• Freedom from 16-hour workdays.

• Freedom to spend time with your family on the weekend.

• Freedom from wage exploitation.

• Freedom from arbitrary termination by an angry boss.

• Freedom to take sick leave when your child is sick.

The list goes on and on.

Since the early days of our nation, American workers – by forming labor unions – have been declaring independence from unfair treatment in the workplace, wage exploitation and other forms of abuse by all-powerful bosses.

It hasn’t been easy. Wealthy bosses and corporations have always wanted a bigger share of the pie at workers’ expense. And they’ve always found willing politicians to help them advance their selfish interests. Today is no different: Think of Walmart, the Fight for $15, Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker and the many politicians who promote right-to-work laws, which in fact are schemes to take away our workplace freedoms.

Yet American workers have come a long way. Today, not just unionized workers but everyone in the nation enjoys more freedom, thanks to unions.

Now, that’s something to celebrate

Ohio Rejects Union’s Cheaper Food Service Bid Wed, 01 Jul 2015 16:20:00 -0500 Five months after bids were submitted to handle Ohio’s troubled prison food services run by Aramark, where maggots were found in the food in several institutions, the state determined it would continue with Aramark’s services and reject OCSEA’s (Ohio Civil Services Employee Association) bid to take over food services.

OCSEA, which represents corrections officers and formerly represented food service workers prior to Aramark taking over, submitted a proposal with a cost well below Aramark’s and would have saved taxpayers $2.9 million a year.

Originally, the Department of Rehabilitation and Correction told the union that an outside third party would review both the union proposal and Aramark’s. But several weeks ago the union learned that the accounting firm Crowe Horwath, which had been tasked with that review, backed out at the last minute.

“That was our first red flag,” said OCSEA Pres. Christopher Mabe. “No explanation was offered and we were left in limbo with only a couple weeks left before Aramark’s contract was up.”

Instead of getting an independent, external analysis that reviewed both proposals, the state’s Department of Administrative Services (DAS), the agency that holds the Aramark contract, only reviewed the union’s bid.

“DAS is less qualified and more vested in the contractor than any other entity,” said Mabe. “We knew from that point forward, we weren't going to get a fair or serious analysis.”

As expected, the DAS review made numerous false claims and assumptions about the union’s proposal and gave a heavy advantage to Aramark. For instance, DAS ignored cost savings included in the union proposal even when Aramark used the same practices. And the agency arbitrarily added a 42 percent upcharge to OCSEA’s food proposal, with no justification.

DAS also applied costs to the union’s analysis that DR&C already pays for, such as current staffing. The final tally from DAS’s upcharges added a whopping $13 million to the union’s original bid.

“This is not a reasonable analysis,” said Adam McKenzie, an OCSEA researcher who helped the OCSEA team with the bid.

"This was a deliberate attempt to ignore our proposal, because we were clearly the cheaper option,” said Mabe. “We were simply not given serious consideration or any of the allowances that Aramark was given and we are deeply disappointed.”

The union is now considering all its options moving forward.

Wanted: Young Women Agitating for Social Justice, Workers’ Rights Wed, 01 Jul 2015 15:20:00 -0500 Do you know of a young woman who has “stood up for workers’ rights and organized their workplace in the face of overwhelming opposition?” Or, who “has made significant contribution to social justice and whose leadership is fueling social change?” If so, you can nominate her for awards presented by The Berger-Marks Foundation.

Two cash awards are being offered by the private foundation, which is “dedicated to supporting women who organize for social justice and promoting the leadership and participation of women in the labor movement.” It was established with a bequest from the estates of social justice activist Edna Berger, the first female lead organizer for The Newspaper Guild-CWA, and her husband, legendary Tin Pan Alley songwriter Gerald Marks.

If you know of a young woman (35 years or younger by this Dec. 31) who qualifies for either of these two awards, AFSCME encourages you to nominate her. The deadline for nominations for both awards is 11:59 pm EST on July 24, and must be made online using the links below. 

The 5th annual Edna Award for Social Justice is a $10,000 award that honors “an outstanding young woman who has made significant contribution to social justice and whose leadership is fueling social change.” Nominees may be from a labor union, women’s group, workers’ rights organization, immigrant rights group or from “any other area of social justice.”

The candidate for the Edna Award cannot nominate herself, and must have recommendations from two people (the nominator and a second recommender). Nominations for the 2015 Edna Award must be made online here.

The 2nd annual Kate Mullany Courageous Young Worker Award is a $1,000 award honoring “young women who have stood up for workers’ rights and organized their workplaces in the face of overwhelming opposition.” It is named for Kate Mullany, a laundry worker who, at the age of 19, helped organize one of this country’s first women’s unions in 1864, the Collar Laundry Union.

The candidate for the Kate Mullany award cannot nominate herself. Each Kate Award nominee needs just one recommendation. Nominations for the 2015 Kate Mullany Award must be made online here.

Winners of both awards will be announced this fall and honored at a reception on Nov. 12, 2015. For more information about these awards, The Berger-Marks Foundation and answers to frequently asked questions, click here. You can learn more about the love and legacy of Edna Berger and Gerald Marks here.

Florida’s Living Labor Legend Retires Tue, 30 Jun 2015 17:40:00 -0500 ALTAMONT SPRINGS, Fla. – Located almost an hour to the northwest of the Capitol in Tallahassee and nestled along the border with Georgia, the city of Chattahoochee, Florida, in Gadsden County is a rural small town surrounded by tobacco farms.

But these tobacco farms gave rise to arguably the state’s most important labor leader when Jeanette Wynn returned home from college and began work in September 1970 at the Florida State Hospital, the state’s largest public mental institution.

Now, after a long and distinguished career, Wynn celebrated her retirement at a reception full of hugs, tears and stories following the recent AFSCME Strong Training Conference held here.

Labor, civic and political leaders from across the state and around the country took to the podium to thank Wynn for her leadership, to share the impact she has had on their lives and to acknowledge that though she may be “retired,” they know she will continue to be guiding them and pushing them to keep up the fight for Florida’s working families.

“Don’t forget that I will be looking over your shoulder,” Wynn joked with the crowd. “So don’t make me tap you and your shoulder and remind you to never look back, always keep looking forward, always keep marching on to victory.” 

Wynn became one of the first state employees to join AFSCME after its certification as the collective bargaining agent for most state employees in 1976, just one of many firsts. She was a member of Council 79’s first executive board and was the first secretary-treasurer of Local 1963. In 1983, she earned her first AFSCME Florida statewide office as Council 79 secretary-treasurer after seven years as president of Local 1963, and was elected Council 79 president in 1998. She became an AFSCME International vice president in 1996.

“I’ve never done this alone. we’ve done this together,” said Wynn. “Yes, so much has come against us along the way but God has always been on our side.”

She received numerous awards over the years, including one from the United Farm Workers for her leadership in building the coalition of black and Latino farm workers back in Gadsden County that led to the successful organizing drive in 1998 at Quincy Farms, one of the country’s largest mushroom farms. She also organized the “Coalition of Conscience” in 2000 to oppose Gov. Jeb Bush’s “One Florida” plan to eliminate affirmative action in hiring, contracting and education, which brought 30,000 people came to the state capitol to protest.

Wynn’s fight for AFSCME members included defeating what would have been the nation’s largest prison privatization in 2012. And just last year, under Wynn’s leadership, AFSCME teamed up with the ACLU to challenge in court Gov. Rick Scott’s random drug-testing policy. The U.S. Supreme Court refused to hear the case, essentially agreeing with lower courts that Governor Scott’s policy to test all state workers was unconstitutional.

“We’ve hung in there this long against their attacks by staying on our toes so I know we can do something new again,” said Wynn in a rousing speech. “Let’s do it again sisters and brothers. We can do it because we always have a greater power on our side.

“Stand tall for righteousness, for the working man, for what is right for the people,” she said. “March on, march on. Organize, organize.”  

Ohio U. Student Workers Demand Union Tue, 30 Jun 2015 17:32:00 -0500 Plagued by poverty wages and soaring tuition costs, hundreds of student workers at Ohio University have banded together to form a union in partnership with AFSCME’s Ohio Council 8 to negotiate for fair pay and gain a voice in setting their working conditions.

In just more than two months, an overwhelming majority of the 257 resident assistants (RAs) at the Athens campus signed membership cards to form a union. Resident assistants live and work in the university’s resident halls, where they provide programming and enforce university safety regulations.

They are the first of many departments that have reached out to AFSCME to express interest in forming a union. Eddie Smith, president of the Graduate Student Senate, noted, “At Ohio University, there are more students on a graduate assistantship performing basic teaching, research or administrative support than there are faculty, administrators or classified staff employees. Hands down we are the biggest and most underrepresented labor force in this university. Unionizing has become a ‘no-brainer’ for us.”

The use of low-wage student workers at Ohio University stands in stark contrast to the university’s decision to buy a $1.2 million mansion for OU’s president while refusing to give student workers a living wage – an issue that came to a head in March when a coalition of more than 400 student workers, professors and AFSCME-affiliated classified staff protested the university’s funding priorities. Watch a video of the demonstration here.

Ohio University’s use of low-wage student workers is not unique. Many public universities have opted to move more work onto nonunionized student workers at the expense of fulltime unionized positions. Raising the RAs’ wages through unionization decreases the incentive of university administrations to use students as low-wage workers, while also bringing hundreds of young workers into the labor movement.

Pass the Voting Rights Advancement Act Now! Tue, 30 Jun 2015 17:24:00 -0500 In an effort to strengthen the Voting Rights Act (VRA), 50 years old in August, AFSCME members rallied last week in Roanoke, Virginia, with other progressive organizations to urge Congress to pass an amendment by Vermont Sen. Patrick Leahy to preserve the right to vote for all Americans.

First enacted in 1965 by Pres. Lyndon B. Johnson, the VRA was intended to prohibit racial discrimination in the voting process. But in 2013, the Supreme Court unraveled many critical voting protections that have been in place since the act’s passage.

That decision, known as Shelby v. Holder, came just as many states were enacting discriminatory Voter ID laws. North Carolina, for example, enacted a voter ID law in 2013 that left more than 300,000 Carolinians unable to vote simply because they did not have an acceptable form of identification.

AFSCME, a strong defender of equal voting protections for all under the law, last year strongly endorsed the Voting Rights Amendment Act (S. 1945) introduced by Senator Leahy. Reintroduced this year, the measure should be passed soon so courts will again have the power to ensure that our voting laws are constitutional.

Roanoke was chosen for last week’s rally because it is represented by Rep. Robert Goodlatte, chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, which has jurisdiction over the legislation. The activists want the congressman to hold a hearing to see for himself evidence of discrimination at the polls.

“Hold a hearing, Mr. Chairman!” shouted Brenda Hale, president of the Roanoke Branch of the NAACP. “You’ll hear the evidence [of discrimination].”

Virginia Sens. Tim Kaine and Mark Warner previously announced their support of the VRAA.

The rally, which lasted several hours, was sponsored by the NAACP, the AFL-CIO and the Democracy Initiative, among other groups. Participants came from all over the mid-Atlantic region, including Virginia’s Tidewater and the DC metropolitan area. 

Lawsuit Seeks to Curtail Freedom of Firefighters, Teachers, Nurses, First-Responders to Stick Together and Advocate for Better Public Services, Better Communities Tue, 30 Jun 2015 12:00:00 -0500 WASHINGTON — AFSCME President Lee Saunders, NEA President Lily Eskelsen García, AFT President Randi Weingarten, CTA President Eric C. Heins, and SEIU President Mary Kay Henry issued the following joint statement today in response to U.S. Supreme Court granting cert to Friedrichs v. California Teachers Association:

“We are disappointed that at a time when big corporations and the wealthy few are rewriting the rules in their favor, knocking American families and our entire economy off-balance, the Supreme Court has chosen to take a case that threatens the fundamental promise of America — that if you work hard and play by the rules you should be able to provide for your family and live a decent life. 

“The Supreme Court is revisiting decisions that have made it possible for people to stick together for a voice at work and in their communities — decisions that have stood for more than 35 years — and that have allowed people to work together for better public services and vibrant communities.

“When people come together in a union, they can help make sure that our communities have jobs that support our families. It means teachers can stand up for their students. First responders can push for critical equipment to protect us. And social workers can advocate effectively for children’s safety.

“America can’t build a strong future if people can’t come together to improve their work and their families’ futures. Moms and dads across the country have been standing up in the thousands to call for higher wages and unions. We hope the Supreme Court heeds their voices.”

And public servants are speaking out, too, about how Friedrichs v. CTA would undermine their ability to provide vital services the public depends on. In their own words:

“As a mental health worker, my colleagues and I see clients who are getting younger and more physical. Every day we do our best work to serve them and keep them safe, but the risk of injury and attack is a sad, scary reality of the job. But if my coworkers and I come together and have a collective voice on the job, we can advocate for better patient care, better training and equipment, and safe staffing levels. This is about all of us. We all deserve safety and dignity on the job, because we work incredibly hard every day and it’s certainly not glamorous.”

—Kelly Druskis-Abreu, AFSCME member, a mental health worker from Worcester, Mass.

“As a school campus monitor, my job is to be on the front lines to make sure our students are safe. Both parents and students count on me — it’s a responsibility that I take very seriously. It’s important for me to have the right to voice concerns over anything that might impede the safety of my students, and jeopardizing my ability to speak up for them is a risk for everyone.”

—Carol Peek, a school campus security guard from Ventura, Calif.

“I love my students, and I want them to have everything they need to get a high-quality public education. When educators come together, we can speak with the district about class size, about adequate staffing, about the need for counselors, nurses, media specialists and librarians in schools. And we can advocate for better practices that serve our kids. With that collective voice, we can have conversations with the district that we probably wouldn’t be able to have otherwise ― and do it while engaging our communities, our parents and our students.”

—Kimberly Colbert, a classroom teacher from St. Paul, Minn.

“Our number one job is to protect at-risk children. Working together, front-line social workers and investigators have raised standards and improved policies that keep kids safe from abuse and neglect. I can't understand why the Supreme Court would consider a case that could make it harder for us to advocate for the children and families we serve — this work is just too important.”

—Ethel Everett, a child protection worker from Springfield, Mass.

ALEC Wants to Indoctrinate High School Students Mon, 29 Jun 2015 15:57:00 -0500 The American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), the corporate front for right-wing “model” state legislation such as the  right-to-work scam, is now working to politically indoctrinate America’s young people with a high school graduation requirement that promotes its extremist views.

The “Founding Philosophy and Principles Act,” a bill that ALEC has quietly pushed since 2010, would require high school students to pass a semester-long course on the “founding philosophy and principles” of the United States in order to graduate.  That may sound like a harmless civics course, but the measure, which popped up in the legislature in Georgia, South Carolina and North Carolina (where it passed the Senate), has raised concerns among parents and teachers.

Lisa Lewis, an AFSCME Local 1644 member from Atlanta whose son will be a high school senior next year, says she is concerned about political indoctrination by ALEC. “ALEC’s beliefs are not what I want my child to be taught in school,” she said. “I would not like him to be taught a course on other people’s [political] morals and beliefs and then be held accountable to believe in those morals and beliefs in order to pass high school.

It’s apparently not enough for ALEC to go after the working class, now they’re going after the children,” Lewis said. “That’s not right.”

The legislation would require students to learn about the country’s founding philosophy and principles through the prism of ALEC’s own anti-government, anti-worker perspective by focusing on “constitutional limitations on government power to tax and spend and prompt payment of public debt” – essentially promoting the right-wing push for a Balanced Budget Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.

The curriculum is designed to teach students to exercise “eternal vigilance” against any form of government spending, and to hold students accountable to espouse the belief that government spending is contrary to the principles of “a virtuous and moral people.”

In making a play for the minds and hearts of our schoolchildren, ALEC hopes to promote its own version of virtues and morality, which includes drastic cuts in Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid, among other important social and economic programs. 

Union Involvement Was Key to Job Satisfaction Mon, 29 Jun 2015 14:41:00 -0500 Eight years ago, Edgardo Marrero realized things had to change. Staff morale in Miami-Dade County’s Animal Services department was at an all-time low. The workers suffered from bad management, frequent turnover and a lack of control over their day-to-day jobs and their careers.

Marrero knew he had to do something and that something was to get involved with his union, AFSCME Local 199.

“Most of your day is spent at work,” he said. “So I figured that instead of just spending the time complaining and wishing it would get better, I would actually do something about it.”

Born and raised in south Florida, Marrero understood the cyclical nature of the area’s economy and how that impacts county workers in everything from contracts to staff size, but he also knew that the union could be a positive force for change in both good times and bad. With the right support from AFSCME and a focus on the right goals, he knew his success at work didn’t have to depend on the economic roller-coaster.

“The shop steward at the time helped me understand how powerful we can be if we work together and stand strong for what we want. She kept me active over time and, thanks to her, I soon became shop steward myself,” he said.

Soon, Marrero’s department was flourishing. Turnover levels dropped, productivity rose along with job satisfaction, and new members were joining the union after seeing what Local 199 was all about.

Marrero decided to take his new passion for supporting his co-workers to the next level by becoming a union representative. Thanks to his hard work, along with his fellow representatives and member leaders, Local 199 is now much more present in the worksite, more active in helping members achieve their goals and in ensuring that help is never far away. 

The renewed focus paid off with a new contract last year that won back tens of millions of dollars in pay concessions relinquished during the economic crisis and even includes a wage increase, an end to furloughs and continued quality health coverage. And it is reflected in the more than a thousand new members that joined in the past year. 

“Local 199 is moving in the right direction to say the least but all this success really just has us wanting more,” said Marrero. “In many departments we are reaching a super majority of membership, but I want to see 100 percent membership across the county.”

Pennsylvania Family, Youth Services Workers Strike and Win Fri, 26 Jun 2015 09:46:00 -0500 More than 100 employees of Lackawanna County (Pennsylvania) Family and Youth Services took the ultimate step to go out on strike in May to demand respect in the workplace. After 11 days on the picket line, they won.

The workers attempted to negotiate with the county for two years. Tired of being walked on by the county, they voted to walk out May 14.  

The Lackawanna County Family and Youth Services employees lacked longevity pay; all other units in the county had longevity pay contractually. Also, their wages were much lower than in surrounding counties.

“Enough was enough,” said Mary Rose Moran, AFSCME Local 524 president. “They gave us no option but to take our fight to the street. We work hard, provide important services to the community and that work must be respected.”

After the AFSCME members voted down a tentative agreement that did not offer the longevity pay and wage increases they sought, the employer agreed to return to the bargaining table. At the next bargaining meeting, however, the county’s chief negotiator, County Commissioner Jim Wansacz, failed to show up.

“How much disrespect can a group of workers endure,” asked Kerri Gallagher, director of AFSCME District Council 87. “The brave women and men took their demand for respect to the streets and won.”

As part of the agreement to return to work, Local 524 members won their long-sought longevity pay and wage increases. “What happened in Lackawanna serves as an example of power for all people in Pennsylvania,” said AFSCME Council 13 Exec. Dir. Dave Fillman, also an AFSCME International vice president. “When we stand strong, we win. When we demand respect, we get it.”

Ohio Council 8 Activist, Labor Leader Marie Clarke Celebrates 100th Birthday Thu, 25 Jun 2015 16:26:38 -0500 Marie Clarke, an AFSCME Ohio Council 8 retiree who dedicated her life to working for equal rights in the workplace, celebrates her 100th birthday June 27.

As one of Ohio's foremost black female labor leaders, Clarke distinguished herself during her long career not only within her AFSCME family, but also in the United Auto Workers Local 927.

Her outstanding contributions to Ohio the labor movement were recognized in 1986 when then-Gov. Richard Celeste inducted Clarke into the Ohio Woman’s Hall of Fame.

The Ohio Department of Job and Family Services, which administers the Hall of Fame, states on its website: “Marie Clarke is one of Ohio's foremost Black female labor leaders. She had the lifelong ambition to work for equal right in the work place for everyone.”

Clarke was instrumental in founding Columbus City Workers Local 1632 (AFSCME Council 8) and served on its executive board. Even in retirement she continued her labor activism as a member of AFSCME Retiree Chapter 1184

“When we say we are standing on the shoulders of those who came before us, we’re talking about people like Marie Clarke,” said John A. Lyall, president of AFSCME Ohio Council 8, and also an AFSCME International vice president. “She knew the power of solidarity and was a great believer in direct action. Her accomplishments should inspire us all. We wish her a happy 100th birthday.”

“I have always felt that serving the public was a special kind of work. And I will always be proud to say I am an AFSCME member,” Clarke said.

Clarke began work as a mechanic in 1946, at the Columbus plant of Curtiss-Wright, then the largest aircraft manufacturer in the United States. A single mother, she was one of thousands of women who went to work in the factories while the men left to serve in the military. After the men returned, Clarke was one of the few minority women to keep her job.

As a factory worker she helped organize and recruit members into the United Auto Workers union. One of her first job actions was to address the disparity in washroom conditions. The men’s washroom had large round sinks where dozens of men could wash at one time. The women’s locker room had just a few regular sinks, and always had a long line at the end of the shift. 

Clarke used that time standing in line to organize and encourage the women to join the union. As UAW members, they successfully pushed management to provide equal washroom facilities.

By the end of her 22-year aircraft factory career, she was the first African American woman to be elected to the executive board of UAW Local 927. Although the union survived the company’s transition from Curtiss-Wright to North American Rockwell, Clarke moved on.

In 1969, Clarke began a 23-year clerical career at Columbus City Hall, and brought her union activism with her. However, she found that only sanitation workers were members of the city workers’ union, AFSCME Local 1632. When the union went on strike later that year, she supported the strikers, but could not be a part of the union, or participate on the picket lines.

After the strike, Clarke set about organizing her co-workers and building the union. She went on to become a proven and effective leader of AFSCME Local 1632 who was the “go-to” person on many issues. She was appointed to a series of ever more responsible union posts, and eventually was elected to serve on her local’s executive board. 

In 1980, she was elected the union’s secretary-treasurer, an office she held for 12 years. During that time the union kept growing, and today represents more than 2,000 city workers.

Clarke also was a member of the Coalition of Black Trade Unionists (CBTU) and the Coalition of Labor Union Women (CLUW).

Riverside County, CA, Deal Would Improve Paramedic & EMT Pay, Patient Care Thu, 25 Jun 2015 14:28:00 -0500 RIVERSIDE COUNTY, Calif. — Paramedics and EMTs in Riverside County have reached an agreement with American Medical Response that would provide 18 percent pay increases over three and half years, protect health insurance, and perhaps most importantly, create a professional practice committee to give emergency care professionals a voice in patient care issues.

The agreement with the nation’s largest private emergency medical services (EMS) company could usher in a new approach to running EMS systems by requiring managers to regularly consult with their licensed personnel on issues impacting patient care. For residents who may find themselves in need of emergency assistance, this would lead to better outcomes.   

“As the professionals delivering the care, we’re the best advocates for patients,” said Paramedic Ricky Rodriguez.  “With our professional practice committee, AMR has finally agreed to listen.”

Profit-driven EMS companies often implement what Rodriguez and his colleagues call a lean model of care. That often translates to outdated equipment, aging ambulances, an exhausted workforce and high turnover.  Securing a commitment from AMR to recognize and act on recommendations from front line professionals was a top priority during negotiations.

“I’m happy and excited that we’ve won a voice in shaping the way patient care is delivered,” said Paramedic Sam Maddaluna. “The county has said they want to have more input from actual field providers, and soon we’ll be able to speak with one unified voice to help shape policies and protocols.”

Members of AFSCME Local 4911 will vote on the tentative agreement in the coming weeks. In the meantime EMS professionals at AMR in Missouri and Arizona continue to bargain for a contract that would raise standards for their families and their patients. 

Optimism Leads to Activism for Young Leader Thu, 25 Jun 2015 13:32:56 -0500 MILLBURY, Mass. – Some people become union activists because they see what’s broken and want to fix it. Not Ryan Marsh, vice president of Rhode Island College Clerical Employees Local 2879 (AFSCME Council 94). He’s an activist because he likes what he and his co-workers have and wants to hold on to it.

Marsh, a Rhode Island College (RIC) graduate who earned a master’s degree in accounting this year, works in RIC’s loan office as an accountant.  He holds another distinction: his union’s 101st member.

“It’s great to be part of the union,” says Marsh, a native of Scituate, Massachusetts. “In the private sector you have to fight for your own rights and benefits. It’s so refreshing to be part of a whole team of people who work together for all of our interests.”

In May, Marsh took part in an AFSCME Strong coaches’ training for members of Councils 4, 93 and 94. AFSCME activists and leaders who participate lean how to train other activists to reach out to their co-workers.

The goal of AFSCME Strong is to engage members in protecting workers’ rights, strengthening our union and rebuilding the middle class through activism and political participation wherever they are. “Spreading the message and making people more aware is really going to do great things for all of us,” Marsh says.

Similar AFSCME Strong trainings are being conducted nationwide.

Marsh, 32, brings plenty of rich experiences to his activism. He joined the U.S. Marine Corps at age 17 and traveled to 11 countries during his service. He returned to Rhode Island to attend college, then trekked across the country. With a friend, he rented a small commercial space to open a tax-preparation business that he turned into a furniture store when tax season ended.

Feeling homesick, he then returned to Rhode Island, where he joined an accounting firm. Laid off once tax season ended, he considered taking the college loan office job.  

Marsh, known for his cheerfulness and positive outlook, got active with Local 2879 as its “sunshine coordinator.” In that role, he reached out to members who were very ill or going through other significant events. He began attending every training program Council 94 offered and also went to statewide AFL-CIO conferences.

Local 2879 Pres. Mary Riley encouraged him to run for vice president last year, seeing his enthusiasm and recognizing the importance of bringing in young Next Wave leaders.

Being a Next Waver means Marsh is a long way from retirement. But he is already concerned about retirement security – not so much for himself, but for those who have been in state government years longer. Benefits in the state’s pension plan were slashed in 2011 for current and future retirees. “If you are a retiree, you need someone to step up on your behalf. When I’m in that position, I hope somebody will be looking out for me,” he says. “The whole point of being in a union is solidarity. We have to fight the battles, because other people did it for us.”

Kasich Cronies Cash In with JobsOhio Thu, 25 Jun 2015 12:10:00 -0500 Ohio Gov. John Kasich’s signature quasi-public JobsOhio “economic development” mechanism, created in 2011 ostensibly to bring jobs to the state, has joined a list of similar entities created by other GOP governors that have come under fire for excessive pay, loans or lack of transparency.

For JobsOhio, recent filings required by state law shows that spending on salary and benefits increased 82 percent from $2.54 million in 2012-13 to $4.68 million in 2013-14. And staff grew from 37 to 61 employees while the organization added highly paid executives and granted huge pay raises.

JobsOhio Pres. John F. Minor Jr. saw a raise of $82,000 — to more than $306,964 — last year. Two senior managing directors make at least $247,745 and $242,821. By contrast, Kasich makes about $149,000 yearly as governor. These amounts don’t even account for money diverted to nontaxable contributions to 401(k) retirement accounts or health insurance premiums.

JobsOhio is a private, nonprofit corporation funded through a lease on state liquor profits, revenue that historically had been public money, and is exempted from all public records laws. The board of directors who approve compensation are appointed by Kasich.

At least six other states with Republican governors have created similar setups, including Michigan (1999), Texas (2003), Indiana (2005) and Wisconsin (2011). Each has come under fire.

In Michigan, Gov. Rick Snyder was forced to shut down a secret fund in 2013 that paid salaries to his trusted advisors, living expenses for Detroit's emergency manager, and new furniture and security for the Governor's residences.

Snyder started the nonprofit NERD (New Energy to Reinvent and Diversify) Fund shortly after taking office, ostensibly to raise private funds for government innovation. However, two years after its creation it was discovered that two of Snyder’s advisers in the Capitol have spent time on NERD’s payroll.  

In Wisconsin, Gov. Scott Walker formed the WEDC (Wisconsin Economic Development Corp.) in 2011, three days after he was sworn in. This quasi-public authority replaced the Department of Commerce and is designed to give taxpayer dollars to private corporations and help them create jobs. Since its creation it has been plagued by scandals.

University Employees Demand Respect, Decent Pay Tue, 23 Jun 2015 17:45:00 -0500 Nearly 4,000 AFSCME and Teamsters members — front-line workers at the University of Minnesota — are speaking up about grossly unequal pay as they negotiate a new contract with the university. 

While more than 3,000 university employees earn at least $100,000 a year, and basketball coach Richard Pitino was recently awarded a $400,000 raise, there are more than 400 university workers who make less than $15 an hour.

"The University likes to pit students against staff. They say if they give our underpaid workers a raise then they'll have to raise tuition," said Cherrene Horazuk, president of AFSCME Local 3800 (Council 5). "We see that as a false choice. The University of Minnesota has more than 600 administrators who make at least $100,000 a year. This bloated and growing section of middle-management could easily be trimmed so the workers who keep the U of M running can make ends meet." 

The University of Minnesota is not alone when it comes to ballooning middle-management and athletic salaries that take dollars out of the classroom. It could well be the poster child for this trend. A Wall Street Journal study in 2012 found that the ranks of management employees at the university grew "more than twice as fast as the teaching core and nearly twice as fast as the student body."

Workers aren’t just upset about the money being diverted from the classroom to a bloated management class at the University. Also at issue is a fundamental lack of respect for the valuable work AFSCME members provide the university.

“Frontline workers are treated as second class to management,” Horazuk said. “For instance, administrative employees receive six weeks of paid parental leave when they have a child. Our members only receive two weeks. Is their time with their newborn less meaningful or needed?”

Horazuk added that “administrative employees receive 7 percent more in pension contributions than our members, yet our members are the one who need the extra help retiring. A frontline worker pays the same as an administrator for healthcare, and receives the same percentage raise, but the workers’ raise is based on a far lower salary. Every year the gap between the U of M’s haves and have-nots grows.”

Local 3800 members and their Teamsters sisters and brothers – as well as their student allies – have steadily increased the pressure as negotiations continue. In April, they joined a “Fight for $15” rally to bring attention to the 400-plus workers at the university who make less than $15 an hour. They also recently took their issue to the Board of Regents.   

AFSCME Pres. Lee Saunders Statement on the Senate Fast Track Vote Tue, 23 Jun 2015 16:59:53 -0500 AFSCME Pres. Lee Saunders issued the following statement regarding the Senate’s vote to advance fast track legislation:

“It is unfortunate that the Senate sided with corporate interests over the American people by advancing legislation that will allow dangerous trade deals to be negotiated in secret. The past is prologue when it comes to American trade policy and fast track will only continue the terrible legacy of putting corporate profits ahead of American jobs, the environment, and our health care. We will now turn our focus to the deeply flawed Trans-Pacific Partnership agreement (TPP) and similar deals, which will open up vital public services to outsourcing. While this is a blow to working Americans, we will not give up the fight for transparency, fairness, and accountability in our country’s trade policies.”

Cab Drivers United/AFSCME Members Mobilize for Reforms Tue, 23 Jun 2015 10:09:00 -0500 CHICAGO – Members of Cab Drivers United/AFSCME Council 31 are praising the Chicago City Council’s introduction of a resolution designed to regulate UberX and Lyft like the taxi services they are.

The resolution affects so-called Transportation Network Providers (TNPs) like UberX and Lyft that offer services identical to licensed professional cab drivers. Introduced by the City Council, it is now before the Committee on License and Consumer Protection. A hearing on the resolution is expected before the council’s August recess.

Twenty-six aldermen – a majority – signed on in support of the resolution, which is sponsored by Alderman Pat Dowell.

The resolution was crafted after Cab Drivers United/AFSCME Council 31 members spent months meeting with the aldermen to urge them to regulate TNPs that currently do not face the same kind of oversight that cab drivers do, despite repeated instances of gross misconduct by UberX drivers.

“Cab drivers in Chicago are ambassadors for the city,” Alderman Dowell said. “The public is confident that when they hail a cab, the driver has the knowledge of the city, the proper insurance and has passed the necessary background checks to get them to their destination safely and efficiently.”

Dowell added, “On the other hand, Transportation Network Providers are providing the same type of service without any of the training or oversight that licensed cab drivers submit to before they can drive. We need to hold TNPs to the same high standards.”

“I’m proud of the work we put in with our union to get to this point,” said veteran Chicago cab driver Nnamdi Uwazi, a member of Cab Drivers United/AFSCME Council 31. “We still have a lot of work to do to level the playing field and regulate TNPs, but today is a great first step toward the fairness and justice that Chicago cab drivers deserve.”

Church and Community: 1199 in Charleston Mon, 22 Jun 2015 17:55:00 -0500 The tragic, senseless massacre on June 17 of nine good people praying to God in a Charleston, S.C., church is hard to fathom, and AFSCME members all across the country are grieving. The racially motivated crime strikes at the heart of a community and a church — the Emanuel African Methodist Church — that for decades has been at the forefront of the struggle for racial equality and workers’ rights.

Among those saddened over the shooting is AFSCME International Vice Pres. Henry Nicholas, president of AFSCME National Union of Hospital and Health Care Employees/ District Council 1199C. “With all of the [racial] tension that is occurring around the country, this is especially painful,” said Nicholas, who watched the reports in horror. “I recognized some of the kids who got killed.”

Nicholas knows that community well, having rallied workers and families in front of that church during the historic 1969 strike by black workers at Medical College Hospital. They sought out 1199 to help them battle indignities at every level of their jobs.

This was a year after the Rev. Martin Luther King was assassinated. His widow, Coretta Scott King, was quick to go to Charleston to support the hospital workers in their campaign for representation by 1199, which Dr. King had called his “favorite union.” Andrew Young and Ralph Abernathy, leaders of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, also rallied with the workers during the 113-day strike that eventually led to their recognition, and improvements on the job.

“You can’t have one without the other,” said Nicholas, referring to the innate relationship between the civil rights and labor movements. “Martin Luther King and Coretta Scott King were an integral part of our struggle.” Coretta Scott King became the honorary chairwoman of the hospital union.

Nicholas’s last visited Charleston in May to attend the funeral of Mary Moultrie, the hospital worker who led the successful campaign for a union. He also accompanied her two years earlier at the unveiling of a marker in front of the hospital that commemorated the workers’ struggle for a union.

What started out as an internal struggle for racial equality and a voice on the job grew into a national movement where black hospital workers became the front line of the civil rights struggle throughout the country, Nicholas said. “Out of Charleston, I sent staff to 14 different states,” said Nicholas, who was operating out of New York then. “We went to West Virginia, Ohio, Kentucky and many others. I had 5,000 people in Baltimore in less than three weeks.”

“Charleston was the beginning of the struggle,” he said. “That community was looking for partners then, and still is. The violence there at that church shows just how much work we have to do.”

Next Wave Assembly Applies Street Heat Fri, 19 Jun 2015 16:54:00 -0500 ST. LOUIS – Young AFSCME members from all over the country gathered June 12-14 for the third annual Next Wave Assembly, getting an opportunity to strengthen their organizing skills, rally for Missouri home care attendants and connect with a network of future labor leaders.

The first message the Next Wave activists got, however, is that the future is now. “You aren’t the leaders of tomorrow,” AFSCME Pres. Lee Saunders said in his opening remarks. “We need you to lead today.”

AFSCME Strong was front and center this year, and the activists broke into nine groups for all-day training, learning the one-on-one organizing skills necessary to educate and mobilize members.

The Next Wavers also put their training to use in Missouri, with 50 attendees visiting state facilities and talking with workers – and signed up more than 30 new union members.  Also, 200 of the activists marched in solidarity with Missouri home care workers whose contracts were not being implemented by home care vendors.

“I have no words to describe seeing all of these people standing in the heat as we demanded respect for our contract.  It gives me hope and I am resolved that we will continue fighting,” said Mary Woods, a consumer and Missouri Home Care Council member. The rally sent a clear message to Paraquard, the largest home care vendor, which agreed to meet with home care attendants the following week.

Attendees also attended workshops and talked about their experiences in their locals. David “Big Daddy” Bride talked about how he helped sign up more than 400 PEOPLE MVP members – 80 percent of the Indianapolis public works unit – in a three-week blitz by Local 725, part of the Indiana-Kentucky Organizing Council 962.

“We have 512 workers in our bargaining unit and would you believe me that we have 511 dues paying members?” Bride told the group, noting that Indiana has imposed a “right-to-work” scam on workers. “And whoever that 512th guy is – well I haven’t found him yet, but don’t worry – I will … for real.”

A PEOPLE party featured karaoke competition and raised several hundred dollars – part of nearly $6,000 raised by the young activists for AFSCME’s political action fund during their three-day event.

Lori Cutshall: Volunteer Extraordinaire Fri, 19 Jun 2015 15:37:40 -0500 Lori Cutshall, president of AFSCME Local 2523 (Pennsylvania District Council 90), embodies what the Jefferson Awards Foundation calls an “unsung hero” – a volunteer or paid professional who goes “well beyond their expected duties” to help out in their local community.

Cutshall, also treasurer of DC 90, is a resident of Dover Township (York County) and an employee at the state Department of Environmental Protection. She attended the Jefferson Awards National Ceremony, on June 18, as one of 60 national finalists for the Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis Award Benefitting Local Communities. While she was not among the five winners of that award, Cutshall nonetheless is an inspiration, showing what it means to volunteer to help others when that help is really needed.

Last October, Cutshall was one of eight mid-state Pennsylvania residents to receive the 2015 Susquehanna Valley Jefferson Award, a local honor that leads to the national award competition. Alan Vandersloot, AFL-CIO community services liaison at United Way of York County, who nominated Cutshall for the local award, told The York Dispatch last year that judges were especially impressed by her efforts helping to establish Oasis of Hope, a Bradford County shelter for women and girls escaping sex trafficking.

Cutshall decided to act after learning – during a presentation by a federal prosecutor – that Central Pennsylvania had one of the nation’s highest rates of trafficking of minors. “We now have the first house for trafficked minor children in the commonwealth of Pennsylvania,” Cutshall said during the local awards ceremony, presented by United Way, Pennsylvania State Employees Credit Union and WGAL, which produced a video about the safe house.

Cutshall also impressed Jefferson Awards judges with her efforts to help displaced New Orleans residents after Hurricane Katrina. She managed a shelter for 10,000 displaced people in Baton Rouge. “She was also in New Orleans’ 9th Ward during that time to assist those in need, and saw a lot of destruction such as boats and cars in trees, and a house on its side wedged between two other houses,” reported AFSCME Council 13’s Connection newsletter.

In addition to her efforts with Oasis of Hope – Cutshall helped victims of Hurricane Sandy in 2013. Her volunteerism doesn’t stop at her state’s borders.

“Globally, Cutshall travels to India, Guatemala, Argentina and Brazil for medical missions and to teach English as a second language,” Connection reported. “Nationally, she is very involved with the American Red Cross, and served food and water to first responders in New York City after the September 11th attacks.”

“It is very difficult for me to tell the difference between global, national and local outreach when it comes to community service,” Cutshall said in the Connection story. “It’s just people helping people. We’re on this boat together.”


25-Year School Board Member Honored Fri, 19 Jun 2015 14:49:00 -0500 Gary Miller, a labor leader and LGBT rights advocate, was honored by the City of Roseville, California, for his 25-year service on two separate school boards – Robla board in North Sacramento for 19 years and Roseville City School Board since 2008. 

Miller started his career as a full-time marketing specialist with the Sacramento Employment and Training Agency (SETA). He administered the job-training program that helped high school dropouts and underprivileged residents find and sustain jobs. This is where Miller decided to get involved in public education.

“The children of today are our future leaders,” Miller said. “We need to make sure they have the best education now so they can lead years from now. I do believe education is a lifetime experience. We should always be learning new things.”

First elected to the school boards in 1987, Miller was re-elected seven times, despite the difficulties of running for public office as an openly gay man. He attributes his success to keeping in mind what really matters to voters, “educate children and provide a good working environment for staff.”

Miller helped his co-workers join Local 146 (Council 57), serving as president from 1995 to 2005. Miller successfully gathered enough signatures to form a union at his workplace when his employer – SETA – refused to give employees a cost-of-living adjustment despite an infusion of federal funds. His work helped gain the wage increase they deserved.

Reflecting on the importance of unions, Miller said, “I have always been a strong believer in unions. Without a union it is like the old-fashioned marriage, where the husband made all the decisions about whether the wife would work, how many children to have, where to live, etc. With a union it is like a modern day marriage where the two individuals sit down and make decisions together.”

New York ‘Insource Pool’ Will Save Millions Fri, 19 Jun 2015 11:50:00 -0500 NEW YORK – The City of New York and DC 37/AFSCME reached a breakthrough agreement that calls for insourcing computer work.

The agreement will help the city save millions of dollars by reining in the use of excessively paid information technology consultants. 

“Previous mayors held the belief that outsourcing government work to private contractors would save the city money,” said DC 37 Exec. Dir. Henry Garrido. “They had their chance – and demonstrated that it can’t be done. Now, let’s get back to work to save taxpayers money and get city work done by city workers.”

The new agreement comes after months of negotiations and includes the formation of an interagency group called the “Insource Pool,” which will have the ability to work in multiple agencies to provide IT support, a service previously provided by exorbitantly priced, for-profit contractors.  

Estimates of savings range from an initial $3 million to as much as $100 million during five years.

The NY Daily News called the agreement “a big success” for DC 37 and Garrido noted: “No revolutionary concept, just common sense.”

Before becoming executive director in December 2014, Garrido was in charge of the union’s efforts to identify both wasteful contracts and ways to help the city increase revenue.

 One of his accomplishments was to help expose vast corruption and waste at the CityTime automated payroll system, a system devised to increase efficiency. CityTime was marred by years of delays and more than $700 million in cost overruns before a dozen consultants were convicted on graft charges, with three consultants sentenced to 20 years in prison.

In Hawaii, Challenges…and Answers Fri, 19 Jun 2015 09:10:00 -0500 Adele Koyama, a board member of HGEA/AFSCME Local 152, was skeptical that she would learn anything new about member involvement as she began AFSCME Strong training in Honolulu, May 11-12, along with 103 other union activists. She kept an open mind, however, and was far from disappointed.

“I was absolutely blown away … that’s how good it was!” she said. “This session not only presented us with challenges, they gave us the answers!”

One of the training’s biggest takeaways for Koyama was honing the skills she needs to have an effective conversation with her co-workers about their union. She said learning and practicing how to redirect the conversation back to the issues when the answer is “I’m too busy” or “I don’t have time” was helpful.

“That is the toughest thing,” she said. “To hear a member turn you down, most people would just give up, myself included. So, learning how to redirect and develop the ‘ask’ is a skill that warrants more time and possibly more role playing.”

During the week, 56 coaches and 48 member activists were trained. These activists conducted a total of 262 organizing conversations.


‘We Are Part of Something Bigger’ Thu, 18 Jun 2015 17:43:00 -0500 Activists from the Anchorage Municipal Employees Association (AMEA), the newest AFSCME unit in Alaska, got an up close and personal experience with their other sisters and brothers last week with AFSCME Strong training, and the practice of talking one-on-one to fellow members was eye-opening.

“I was very motivated,” said Gerri Elliot, AMEA shop steward. “It made me feel like we’re no longer standing alone as an independent association. Seeing the other affiliates [Alaska State Employees Association and Public Safety Employees Association] in action and hearing their experiences made me realize we are a part of something much bigger.”

AMEA is fairly new to AFSCME’s rich history and vibrant culture of fighting for working families, joining the ranks of AFSCME less than a year ago. As the training kicked off, members from AMEA embraced the emergence of the campaign and asked questions eagerly to learn how it could affect their membership and improve their jobs.

Elliot is a 20-year library assistant in Anchorage. She cares for library visitors like family, and works hard for the system to grow and remain a reliable resource to the communities she grew up in. Dan Sullivan, their mayor at the time, threatened that very system. He introduced an ordinance that crucially weakened municipal workers’ right to collectively bargain on issues that directly affect residents and public employee working conditions.

That was nearly two years ago. Since then,  AMEA played a critical role in defeating the anti-union ordinance and quickly backed a labor-friendly candidate for mayor, Ethan Berkowitz, giving him the edge — in a crowded race — to win the election. Elliot added, “We’re very excited to work with the new mayor. Our issues and concerns for the city have landed on deaf ears far too long, but we believe we have a new mayor who will do what is right for Anchorage.”

Over the years serving as a shop steward, Elliot said she always felt she could do more for her coworkers. Like many union members, Elliot wouldn’t become more involved until a co-worker and union activist she respected asked for her help.

“After AMEA joined AFSCME I was invited to attend an AFSCME steward training,” she said. “It changed my life. The proper training and resources I’d been looking for were finally available and I intended to use them. It’s all coming together and I’m ready to share what I have learned to strengthen our union.”