Blog and Press Release Feed Blog and Press Release Feed Tue, 3 May 2011 05:00:00 +0000 AMPS en hourly 1 Kentucky COs Earn Raises, Respect Wed, 29 Jul 2015 13:00:00 -0500 Kentucky corrections officers earned hefty pay increases and bonuses from an administration concerned about retaining and attracting good employees willing to perform the dangerous work.

Faced with turnover rates as high as 67 percent, Gov. Steve Beshear approved a plan to stabilize the workforce that raises pay for security staff; provides 40-hour workweeks for institutional hazardous duty, non-security staff; and implements a monthly stipend for members of the correctional emergency response teams, or CERT.

AFSCME pushed hard for the increased pay, which put Kentucky more in line with surrounding states’ compensation rates.

“This increase is nice, but it’s still not enough. Corrections officers in Kentucky risk their lives every day, but the state ranks 49th in pay for the work they do,” said Debbie Garcia, executive director of the Indiana/Kentucky Organizing Committee Council 962. “But for many COs this is too little too late. Many veteran COs haven’t had a raise in six years and workplace shortages remain an epidemic.”

Under the new wage structure, the starting salary for corrections officers will be increased by 13.1 percent, raising the entrance pay from $23,346 to $26,400, with higher increases for sergeants, lieutenants and captains.

The new structure also sets across-the-board salary increases for existing staff, and will affect security staff at the Kentucky Correctional Psychiatric Center near LaGrange, which is run by the Cabinet for Health and Family Services.

The 40-hour workweek for all institutional hazardous duty, non-security staff moves them from their current 37.5-hour schedule – the equivalent of a 6.7 percent increase in compensation.

CERT members, who respond to incidents, riots, cell extractions, mass searches or disturbances in prisons, will receive a $50 monthly maintenance stipend.

“Our corrections staff work under stressful, dangerous conditions, and as our economy improves, it's understandable that many seek opportunities in less hazardous environments,” Governor Beshear said.

Hopefully, these raises will help stem the tide of such high turnover and provide Kentucky’s COs with a new level of respect on the job.

Atlanta Workers Speak Up, Win Raises Mon, 27 Jul 2015 13:14:00 -0500 ATLANTA – The City Council voted overwhelmingly July 21 to approve a 3.5 percent pay increase for approximately 3,000 Atlanta city workers in public works, corrections, and parks and recreation, among other city services.

AFSCME Local 1644 members were active in City Council speak-ins, and direct conversations with Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed, reminding them of the vital services that city employees provide.

“We make the city of Atlanta work, ensuring that the city is a clean, safe and enjoyable place to work and live in,” Local 1644 member Tracy Thornhill told the Council. “We deserve a pay raise that lets us know that the city and our community recognize our work.” 

Mayor Reed spoke up in favor of the pay raise. “The city of Atlanta is in the strongest financial position in more than a decade,” he said. “Because of this financial stability, our hard-working employees will take home a paycheck that reflects their contributions and accomplishments.”

The pay raise is retroactive to July 1, and members should receive the increase in their August paychecks.  The last significant pay raise occurred several years ago.


Jeb Bush: ‘Phase Out Medicare’ Mon, 27 Jul 2015 12:00:00 -0500 As Medicare celebrates its 50th anniversary July 30, the popular program continues to provide quality, affordable health care to seniors. It also is in its strongest fiscal shape in years thanks to the Affordable Care Act.

So why does Republican Presidential candidate JEB! Bush want to “phase out this program?” That’s what he proposed July 23 at an event sponsored by the Koch brothers’ Americans for Prosperity in Manchester, New Hampshire, where he praised proposals by Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) to turn Medicare into a voucher program.

Watch the video for yourself!

Retirees like Dave Jacobsen, president of the Northwest Florida AFSCME Retiree Subchapter 43, are scratching their heads trying to figure out what Bush is talking about.

“Costs are going up on almost everything, but we know that things would be much worse if we didn’t have Medicare to keep us healthy,” said Jacobsen, a former employee of Florida’s Department of Health. “Medicare is one of the most successfully run health programs in the history of the world and I appreciate President Johnson for signing the legislation 50 years ago.”

The former Florida governor appears to be completely out of touch – from saying people “need to work longer hours” if they want to earn enough to get by to misrepresenting President Obama’s proposals to expand overtime pay so severely that leading economists said he “should be embarrassed.” And this new Medicare statement only underscores his confusion.

“Medicare is a right earned by every American for a lifetime of hard work and I will organize every senior in north Florida to educate them on Bush’s Medicare proposals,” said Jacobsen. “We here remember too well how he ran our state into the ground as governor and we all know what his brother did to our country so we can’t let it happen again.”



Survey: Pope’s Economic Message Resonates Here Fri, 24 Jul 2015 15:22:00 -0500 An overwhelming majority of religiously affiliated U.S. voters agree with Pope Francis’s message on equality and economic justice, including the Pope’s view that our economy is out of balance because of inequality and injustice, and that we must make changes so that “everyone benefits from the fruits of the Earth.”

This finding is part of a recent survey among voters who describe themselves as religious that was conducted by Lake Research Partners ahead of Pope Francis’s visit to the United States. The nationwide survey among likely 2016 voters, conducted on behalf of a coalition of labor unions and faith organizations, reveals that the Pope’s message of togetherness, community, inclusion and equality resonates with the American electorate.

“The Pope’s strong voice on these issues will likely prove catalytic to the conversation regarding a broader values debate and a family-friendly economic agenda,” wrote Celinda Lake and Joshua Ulibarri, of Lake Research Partners. “At a time when Americans are having incredibly important conversations around strengthening families, making the economy work for our families, and racism, among other issues, the Pope’s message rejects division and instead calls on Americans to embrace the values of inclusion, community and the Golden Rule (do unto others as we would have them do unto us).”

Religiously affiliated voters reject the prevailing economic view that “we are in this alone,” the survey found. Instead, these voters embrace the notion that “millions of struggling workers, seniors, the sick and the weak are NOT alone.” Furthermore, they agree with the Pope that “we must act in terms of community,” and they support an agenda that creates a family-friendly economy.

More specifically, 87 percent of survey respondents support guaranteeing earned paid sick time for recovery from injury or illness, or to help a family member recover; 80 percent support making major investments in children and poverty that include early education and child health care, even if it means increasing their taxes; and 62 percent support raising the minimum wage to $15 an hour to help workers sustain their families.

A full 84 percent agreed with this message: “Our economy is tough on our families, from wages, to hours, to discrimination…. We need to fight for work, and for dignified work. If people work hard, they ought to earn enough to sustain their families. We can change our community for the better so that the economic system values people over profits.”

And 79 percent agreed with this: “There is so much inequality and injustice that our economy is out of balance. Too few people benefit from the wealth in our society…. We need to change our economy so that everyone benefits from the fruits of the Earth and we promote fairness and dignity for everyone.”

The Pope’s visit to the United States is likely to focus attention on many of these issues, which are part of a long overdue national conversation.

Act 10 Creates Corrections Crisis in Wisconsin Fri, 24 Jul 2015 11:36:00 -0500 In 2010, Wisconsin’s Department of Corrections (DOC) boasted near full employment with well-trained, experienced corrections officers who considered the job a career and earned a fair wage with good benefits.

Then came Governor Walker’s Act 10. The law stripped COs and all state employees of the ability to bargain with management over wages and benefits.

Today, Wisconsin’s DOC is desperate. It faces record retirements, more than 400 vacancies to fill, forced overtime, record overtime costs of $9.3 million and nearly $12 million in sick time costs. As a result, Wisconsin communities are less safe today.

“For the DOC and for COs, the situation is bad and getting worse,” said Mike Fox, interim executive director of AFSCME Council 32, which represents corrections officers. “Vacancies are growing, and the state can't hire replacements fast enough to keep up.”

Before passage of Act 10, having a strong voice on the job kept morale and professional pride high. An employee survey conducted by the DOC last year found 82 percent cited ‘staff morale’ as the most pressing issue. Some 52 percent raised a red flag about staff retention and 45 percent cited staff safety and wellness as a most pressing issue.

Pay for state COs has fallen sharply and employee costs for benefits keep going up. Neighboring states and many county jails are paying better than the state of Wisconsin.

Iowa’s starting wage is $18.02. In Illinois, the trainee salary is $20.57 an hour. COs in both states have a union contract. In Wisconsin, a CO’s starting pay is $15.34 an hour. Starting pay in Wisconsin’s Brown County jail is $19.11 and $21.18 an hour in Outagamie County.

In 2010, there were only 88 CO vacancies across 21 adult correction facilities in Wisconsin. Now there’s five times that number. These jobs are no longer considered careers for well-trained corrections professionals and are treated as a stepping-stone job until they can find something better, according to Fox.

“Low salaries, dangerously short-staffed prisons, fewer experienced correctional officers, more inexperienced recruits, short-staffing, low morale and mandatory overtime are not the ingredients to attract and sustain a qualified workforce,” said Fox. “Or for a safe and effective prison system that protects Wisconsin’s communities.”

Thousands of Protesters Greet ALEC Thu, 23 Jul 2015 17:56:00 -0500 SAN DIEGO – Thousands marched against the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) during the opening day of its annual meeting. It was one of the largest protests ever against the right-wing organization, featuring elected officials, workers, community activists, faith-based leaders and other progressives.

“Today we refused to allow the actions of a group of anti-worker billionaires that push laws to make the rich richer on the backs of hardworking families go unnoticed,” said Jesse Torres, a home care provider with AFSCME’s United Domestic Workers (UDW).

ALEC is a corporate-funded group of nearly 2,000 extremist state lawmakers who use ALEC’s cookie-cutter approach to draft legislation that weakens unions, throws up roadblocks to voting and promotes “Stand Your Ground” gun laws.

The annual ALEC conference brings together hundreds of corporate lobbyists and wealthy funders from around the country to wine and dine the lawmakers. Legislators are promised hefty contributions in exchange for support of state laws that weaken worker and environmental protections, eviscerate public education and punish immigrant families.

“All of us here today are committed to building the middle class and lifting families out of poverty, and ALEC is here to do the exact opposite!” added Torres.

Other speakers included Yessika Magdaleno, a child care provider from Orange County who is part of a statewide coalition campaigning to pass legislation aimed at improving California’s child care system by giving working women and providers a greater voice and collective bargaining rights.

"ALEC's anti-worker agenda harms our workforce, which is mostly women, as well as the hardworking families who depend on us to care for their children,” Magdaleno said. “Let’s continue to work together toward a quality child care program in California – because unlike ALEC, we support hardworking families, and women!"

After listening to community and labor activists decry ALEC’s negative impact on middle-class families, the massive crowd marched to the doorstep of the conference to ensure their message was heard.

Challenging ‘Political’ Supreme Court Thu, 23 Jul 2015 15:42:00 -0500 If the Supreme Court makes a partisan ruling in Friedrichs v. California Teachers Association, undermining the ability of public sector workers to band together on the job, it would further manipulate the political system against working families, Harold Meyerson writes in his Washington Post column July 22.

In June, the Supreme Court decided to hear the Friedrichs case, which seeks to overturn a unanimous 1977 decision that strengthened the ability of nurses, librarians, corrections officers and other public service workers to have a say at work.

Meyerson, also the editor-at-large of The American Prospect, said a ruling to overturn the long standing precedent could “create a long-term advantage for their party over the Democrats. Such a ruling would be worse than the court’s decision in Bush v. Gore, which essentially decided only the one election, and “could decide elections for years to come.”

For public service workers though, the case is about much more than politics. “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,” said AFSCME member Kelly Druskis-Abreu, a mental health worker from Worcester, Massachusetts. “This is about all of us.”


VIDEO: Bad Bosses Working Overtime Thu, 23 Jul 2015 11:56:00 -0500

Jeb Bush says we need to work longer hours. Scott Walker says the minimum wage is “lame” and signed a budget that eliminates the weekend. Marco Rubio says we need to run the country according to what business says it needs. Donald Trump says … well, “you’re fired!”

AFSCME’s new video puts these bad-boss ideas promoted by candidates for President into the context of bad bosses we know and hate in modern culture. Why are these rich politicians picking on American workers anyway?

The reality is that Americans work more hours than any other workers on earth. According to the International Labor Organization, Americans work 137 more hours per year than Japanese workers, 260 more hours per year than British workers, and 499 more hours per year than French workers.

In fact, the Gallop Poll last year found that the average workweek for salaried and wage-earners is now 47 hours, well beyond the 40-hour workweek proscribed in the Fair Labor Standards Act, which requires that employers pay overtime for work beyond 40 hours.

Employers have managed to get around the overtime provisions by paying set weekly salaries, instead of hourly wages, since only salaried workers earning less than $23,660 a year qualify for overtime under the current FLSA rule. That standard is so low that only 8 percent of salaried workers qualify for overtime, compared with 65 percent of salaried workers who qualified in 1975.

President Obama proposed a rule change that would raise the limit on overtime pay to $50,440, which would cover 11 million more salaried workers now being forced to work beyond 40 hours without overtime pay. It’s a long overdue change that will put more money into the hands of working families and, thus, improve the U.S. economy.

Naturally, we can expect a fight from all the bad bosses out there doubling as Presidential candidates. But you can weigh in on the side of workplace justice. Let the Department of Labor know that you support the rule change by clicking this link to send a message.

Send a message to the bad bosses: We work hard for the money. Pay up!

Texas Legislative Success Draws New Members Tue, 21 Jul 2015 18:25:00 -0500 PALESTINE, Texas - With two major legislative wins under its belt, AFSCME Texas Corrections Employees launched a full-scale organizing campaign across the state.  Ten different locals are involved in the campaign, along with AFSCME International organizers. 

Recently, corrections officers and employees received one of the largest pay increases in Texas Corrections history.  This victory, combined with members’ ability to push back a payroll deductions bill during the legislative session, has many nonunion workers sitting up and taking notice. AFSCME’s Texas Corrections Employees gained more than 1,000 new dues-paying members between January and May of this year. The legislative session ended June 1. 

The organizing blitz to build membership started on July 10 and will run through July 27.  Targeted areas include Gatesville, Palestine, Angleton, Abilene and Lubbock.  In just three days, activists have signed up nearly 50 new members and had more than 120 one-on-one conversations, identifying the concerns of corrections employees.

Corrections Officer Amimbda Ajayi joined the union and signed up as an AFSCME PEOPLE MVP because “the union is about people coming together,” she said.  “It’s a group thing.  We can do it together. Winning our raise was one thing we did together, but there is so much more we can accomplish!”

Richard Salazar, president of Local 3806, said the organizing success shows what can be accomplished with one-on-one conversations. “I know that people want to get involved,” he said. “They just need that extra push. Having someone stop by and have a personal conversation may be all someone needs to commit to being a union member.”

Contract Win at Vermont’s HowardCenter Tue, 21 Jul 2015 15:21:00 -0500 More than 13 months of intensive contract negotiations has yielded a lucrative new contract for AFSCME members working at Vermont's HowardCenter, a nonprofit social services organization. Members of Local 1674 voted overwhelmingly June 30 to ratify the contract, paving the way for long overdue pay increases for the workers.

"It's heartening to know that the wages of our members at the HowardCenter are finally beginning to match the quality of the critical services they provide," said AFSCME Council 93 Exec. Dir. Frank Moroney, also an AFSCME International vice president. "These skilled and dedicated workers work hard every day to provide quality care to some of the most vulnerable members of society. We're pleased we were able to bring them this long-overdue recognition and we look forward to continuing to build the strength and power of Local 1674." 

Under the new agreement, current employees who were employed at the HowardCenter on or after Nov. 1, 2013, will receive a 2 percent increase to their base salary. In addition, workers will receive a 2.6 percent retroactive increase for the period Aug 1, 2014, through June 30, 2015. They also received an additional 2 percent increase, effective July 1.

Some staff will receive additional pay increases or bonuses, depending on licenses they hold, the shifts they work, the length of time they've worked at the center, and other factors. In addition, workers who use their automobiles for their jobs will now also receive reimbursement at the non-taxable per mile rate set annually by the IRS.

The road to the contract agreement was long and difficult and included several demonstrations aimed at calling attention to the extremely low wages paid to the workers. The union also organized a public informational forum at Burlington City Hall that drew more than 150 supporters and was attended by Moroney and AFSCME Pres. Lee Saunders.

After months of pressure, the union also received the backing of Burlington City Councilors who passed a nonbinding resolution in May urging the Howard Center to pay workers a living wage. These and other efforts were bolstered by a Council 93 paid radio advertising campaign and other media relations strategies.

Netroots Nation, Meet AFSCME Strong Tue, 21 Jul 2015 12:51:00 -0500 PHOENIX, Ariz. – When Netroots Nation, the annual political conference for progressive bloggers, newsmakers and activists from across the country, assembled here July 16-19, AFSCME used the opportunity to share strategies and introduce AFSCME Strong

An AFSCME-sponsored panel on unions as the answer to the problem of income inequality attracted a passionate crowd eager to hear how labor will organize a winning movement in the face of corporate-funded attacks. Seema Nanda, an assistant to Secretary of Labor Thomas Perez, opened the discussion by declaring, “The labor movement is one of the last counter-balances to a system that corporate interests have rigged against working families, in favor of the rich.”

The panel also included: Neera Tanden, president of Center for American Progress; U.S. Rep. Raul Grijalva (D-Ariz.); Naomi Walker, assistant to the president of AFSCME; and Frank Piccioli, president of AFSCME Local 2960.

Piccioli reflected on the impact unions played on his family. “When my father suffered second- and third-degree burns, it was our union that had our backs,” he said. “I don’t know where I would be without the continued support and benefits unions bargain for — for all workers.”

Walker told conference participants about AFSCME Strong, the intensive campaign to strengthen our union by engaging members in one-on-one conversations about our future.  

“AFSCME members are going on the offensive,” Walker said. “We’re facing down attacks from corporate-funded politicians with renewed grassroots energy from our membership. The renewed activism in our union is already creating results. AFSCME has organized over 140,000 new members since last year — even in right-to-work states.” 

Among the speakers were Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) and two candidates running in the Democratic presidential primary: Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and former Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley. The presidential town hall featuring O’Malley and Sanders was interrupted by civil rights activists intent on bringing national attention to the issues of racial inequality and law enforcement treatment of the black population.

VIDEO: Cab Driver Advocates Successfully Defend Fellow Drivers Mon, 20 Jul 2015 15:03:00 -0500 CHICAGO – Piloting a new program based on AFSCME Council 31’s steward training last spring, Cab Drivers United/AFSCME’s “Driver Advocate” program has produced results for Chicago cab drivers. More than half of the tickets have been dismissed outright because of the union’s efforts.

“When I first got the ticket, I felt so bad,” said Taiwo Iyiola, a new member of Cab Drivers United/AFSCME. “I immediately called Cab Drivers United, and I showed them the ticket, and they told me not to worry, they are going to go with me to 400 West Superior,” where the drivers must navigate a cumbersome court system after receiving a ticket.  

Many cab drivers call 400 West Superior a “kangaroo court” because of confusing rules and regulations, on top of coercive prosecutors that pressure drivers to settle without a hearing, regardless of guilt or wrongdoing.

Iyiola said that Cab Drivers United/AFSCME “came inside with me, and at the end of the day, the judge told me he is going to dismiss the case, which he did. I was so impressed that the Cab Drivers United/AFSCME were able to fight for me.”

Besides tickets dismissed outright, others were amended so that fines were reduced, thanks to AFSCME’s Driver Advocate program.

“When the police give you the ticket, you just pay what you are supposed to pay,” added Iyiola.  “But when you are in the union, when you have any problem, go straight to the union. The union will tell you, ‘This is what you are supposed to do, this is not what you are supposed to do.’”

California = No-ALEC Zone Mon, 20 Jul 2015 13:54:00 -0500 SAN DIEGO – As the right-wing American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) and its corporate allies assemble here this month, they will be met by thousands of demonstrators sending a message that “California is a no-ALEC zone.”

“ALEC works to pass laws that make the lives of Americans harder,” said Doug Moore, executive director of AFSCME’s United Domestic Workers and also an AFSCME International vice president. “We do things differently here in California; we are raising the minimum wage, protecting our families, educating our children and respecting the rights of all Californians.”

ALEC for decades has created anti-worker “model” legislation, including the “right to work” scam, and building a network of right-wing state legislators who want to slash wages, cut retirement, weaken health and safety, harm the environment, and destroy the middle class.

Thousands of workers, community groups, faith-based leaders, and progressives will gather together at the site of ALEC’s conference to make it clear they are not welcome in California.

 “We are coming together to let ALEC know that their harmful agenda isn’t wanted here, and so that we can let other American families know we stand with them,” Moore said. “Together we can ensure ALEC and their allies do not have power here.”

NBC’s Atlanta affiliate recently exposed ALEC for its secret dealing with Georgia legislators. A panel will be held the day following the rally to discuss how such deals can hurt working families and our communities. 

Here's a funny edited look as well at ALEC's newest promotional video. 

Oregon AFSCME Pushes Reform for All Workers Mon, 20 Jul 2015 12:12:51 -0500 Oregon Gov. Kate Brown on July 14 signed into law a groundbreaking package of workplace and retirement legislation that could serve as a model for other states. The new laws, strongly supported by AFSCME Council 75 and a broad community coalition, provides:

  • Mandatory paid sick days for employees.
  • A state-managed retirement system open to all residents.
  • A prohibition against employers considering a job applicant’s conviction history during the initial hiring stages.
  • A requirement for reporting profiling complaints to the Law Enforcement Contacts and Data Review Committee.

“I’m very proud that our union had a role in fighting to bring statewide benefits that most of our members already enjoy,” said Karen Williams, AFSCME Council 75 political action chair. “It was really clear that we were in this fight for everyone in the community, and that’s how it should be. I couldn’t be more proud of our fight to expand these benefits and to help improve everyone’s work life.”

AFSCME Council 75 and other labor organizations joined with a coalition of faith and community groups to form the Fair Shot for All Coalition, lobbying collectively to pass the historic legislative package.

The work of AFSCME Council 75 and its allies perfectly illustrates the important role the labor movement plays in improving working conditions for everyone, regardless of their union status. Where unions are strong, wages are higher, more people have health insurance, and fewer people live in poverty


Iowa Corrections Managers Cost Taxpayers Thu, 16 Jul 2015 12:00:00 -0500 Dozens of Iowa community-based corrections managers are taking advantage of an improper loophole to gain up to an extra week of vacation – and what amounts to an additional two weeks of additional sick time – a violation of state rules that has cost taxpayers more than $1 million in the past five years, according to a recent report by the Iowa Auditor’s office.

The state’s 1st, 5th and 6th judicial district departments of correctional services have been awarding as much as 40 percent more vacation to managers than allowed, and the 1st and 6th districts have been awarding as much as 67 percent more sick leave to managers than other districts that abided by maximum state limits, the report said. Two other districts, the 7th and 8th, were found to have improperly classified some managers as field staff, which boosted their vacation accrual.

Officials in those districts thought state maximum limits for vacation and sick leave did not apply to them because they did not consider themselves to be state employees, the audit said. However, the limits do apply because the officials participate in the state’s sick leave insurance program, according to the auditor’s report.

“At a time when Iowa’s entire correctional system, including our prisons and community-based corrections, is severely understaffed, it is highly disturbing to find out about these excessive vacation and sick leave benefits for management employees,” said Danny Homan, president of AFSCME Iowa Council 61, the union representing these district’s employees. Homan is also an AFSCME International vice president.

The rank-and-file workers covered by the AFSCME contract who work to help offenders successfully return to society do not receive this perk; it’s exclusive to management.

The 1st District Department of Correctional Services (DCS), covering 11 counties in the northeast section of the state, has refused to make changes even though the district is set to lay off two community program monitor workers and eliminate a third parole/probation officer position.

The district’s director, Karen Herkelman, contends that any changes in leave accruals would have minimal impact on payout in the current fiscal year and would not prevent layoffs. However, Herkelman has a conflict of interest: she is set to retire July 31 and will likely receive excessive vacation and sick leave payout if no changes are made before then.

“The only reasonable reaction to the auditor’s report is to stop awarding these excessive benefits and remove excessively awarded leave from manager’s sick and vacation leave accounts,” Homan said. “The state auditor has said these management perks are improper. Not one penny should be spent on these improper perks, especially when layoffs are occurring.”

Black Women: Labor Resource in Waiting Tue, 14 Jul 2015 15:13:00 -0500 Black women join unions at higher rates than all other women, yet they are “the most underutilized leadership resource in the U.S. labor movement,” says a recent report by the Institute for Policy Studies.

And Still I Rise: Black Women Labor Leaders’ Voices, Power, Promise,” profiles several women who achieved leadership positions within their unions.

The report was the focus of a recent reception and panel discussion at the AFL-CIO, which is exhibiting photos of the profiled women.

The report includes a January 2015 national survey of 467 black women, representing more than 35 unions and the AFL-CIO. Fewer than 3 percent of them held elected positions and fewer than 20 percent held senior staff positions at a director level or higher.

Only 23 percent of the respondents said the feminist movement represents the interests of black women. Almost half said a glass ceiling prevents them from “growth and promotion” in the labor movement.

“This leadership gap for black women is a detriment to the growth and survival of unions,” wrote the authors, Kimberly Freeman Brown and Marc Bayard. Furthermore, they said, it could mean that organizing black women “will not be a high priority for the labor movement.”

The labor movement is not alone underrepresenting black women as managers and leaders. In corporations, black women hold only 5.3 percent of managerial and professional positions, according to the Center for American Progress and Catalyst.

While black women may have mentors at work, those mentors often don’t use their influence to advocate on their behalf, the report concludes. “And those are exactly the types of mentors women need to advance their careers.”

Recommendations of the report include creating a “pipeline project”  to recruit black labor women to key staff positions and boards of directors; expanding existing mentorship programs and creating new opportunities; positioning black labor women as strategists in the media; and creating collaborative organizing projects between labor, community groups and organizations focused on black women.

Two of the 27 women profiled in  the report are members of the AFSCME family: Arlene Holt Baker, retired executive vice president of the AFL-CIO and former AFSCME organizer and area director in California; and Alice Goff, president of AFSCME District Council 36 and L.A. City Clerical and Support Employees (AFSCME Local 3090)

“There is great promise for the future of the labor movement to grow stronger if it utilizes the intellect, the organizing skills, the political skills, the bargaining power, and the leadership skills of more black women at every level of our movement,” said Holt Baker, who spoke at the reception.

Increasing the number of black women who are labor leaders is about justice as well as success, said AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka.

“The data says that organizing drives led by black women, and organizing black women, have the highest chances for success,” he said. “In fact, when black women use their collective voice to win, our entire society gets a lift.”

The AFL-CIO recently created the Labor Commission on Racial and Economic Justice to explore racial issues within the labor movement. In addition, the AFL-CIO earlier this month hosted the first in a series of 10 Race and the Labor Movement town halls, intended to be conversations on race and the role it plays in the lives of workers across the nation. 

Minnesota vs. Wisconsin: A Tale of Two States Tue, 14 Jul 2015 11:38:00 -0500 For workers, economic fortunes follow elections of Dayton, Walker

For working people in Minnesota - recently named the "Top State For Business" - it is the best of times (at least in the last half decade). But in neighboring Wisconsin, it is the worst of times. To determine just why these Midwest states, both deeply invested in manufacturing and agricultural economics, have fared so differently, one only has to look to who they elected governor in 2010.

Facing a deep natural recession and a $6 billion budget deficit, Minnesotans voted in progressive Gov. Mark Dayton, who ran on a tax-the-rich platform that included investment in people and infrastructure.

Dayton pushed a sharp increase on taxes for the top 2 percent to pay for his plan. And soon he and legislators passed laws that expanded unionization, froze college tuition, increased the minimum wage, required equal pay for women, legalized same-sex marriage, eased voter restrictions, boosted primary education spending and established all-day kindergarten.

Wisconsinites went in a complete 180-degree direction. They elected Scott Walker, a firebrand conservative who announced this week that he is running for President.

Walker has repeatedly scapegoated public service workers while extolling the virtues of “trickle-down” economics and cutting his way to reducing the state’s $3 billion budget hole.

Walker also has cut taxes on the most wealthy, saying it would spur job creation and innovation. He and a Republican-controlled Legislature dismantled collective bargaining for public employees with Act 10. They also opposed a minimum-wage increase and equal-pay legislation, refused to expand Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act and, finally, passed the scam right-to-work law.

Five years later, only one governor has proven successful.

In Minnesota, Dayton turned that $6 billion budget deficit into a more than $2 billion surplus in just one term. Minnesota added 172,000 jobs and its 3.6 percent unemployment rate is among the lowest in the country.

Under Walker’s policies, Wisconsin still faces a $2 billion shortfall, has fallen to 44th in private-sector job creation and faces a 5.2 percent unemployment rate.

Minnesota has consistently been in the top tier of states for GDP growth since Dayton was elected and median incomes are $8,000 higher than the national average. In Wisconsin, median household income is thousands less than in Minnesota.

In 2015, Minnesota is considered one of the most business-friendly states in the country, with Forbes ranking it the ninth-best state for business, seventh in economic climate and second in quality of life. Thanks to Walker’s anti-worker policies, the cost of doing business in Wisconsin is now higher than the national average.

“In Minnesota, we’re doing better than our neighbors in the Badger state because our governor understands that good government works for all people, not just the rich,” said Eliot Seide, executive director of AFSCME Minnesota Council 5. “Under Governor Dayton, we know that everyone will get a fair shot, give their fair share, and play by the same rules. In Wisconsin, Governor Walker has only served the rich, so he hasn’t created an economy that works for working families.” 

Taking on Roaches and Winning in PortMiami Mon, 13 Jul 2015 14:18:00 -0500 Rotted-out floors, windows that leaked – even termite, ant and roach infestations. These were the conditions that cashier booth attendants at Florida’s PortMiami, “cruise capital of the world,” dealt with every day. That is, they did until they decided they would stand up to management to demand changes.

They got them, thanks to the power of solidarity – and their union, AFSCME Local 199.

It wasn’t that easy, however. These PortMiami employees are all part-time workers, fearful of retaliation by management if they spoke up “because it could mean an impact on our hours,” said Melissa Spicer, a Miami-Dade County Seaport employee. “These were issues since before even I started working there (in 2008).”

Spicer said the poor working conditions within their toll booths, which included broken chairs and no electrical hookups to power air conditioning or even fans, “reflected how we were treated by management. They made sure the booths looked good from the outside but never spent money on fixing our problems.”

That was okay with management since the outside of the booths looked attractive to the cruise ship passengers who stopped at the toll booths to pay for their parking fees. But it was intolerable for the employees who had to work there. What could they do?

Not much, working alone. But then they realized that they could make a difference if they only stood up, together, as union members to demand that management fix the problem. To make sure management paid attention, they began a formal union grievance process. They also gave management another chance to do the right thing. 

This time, thanks to their united voice and the help of a fellow Local 199 member from the fire department that had started as a staff rep, Pete Ortiz, they got results.

The floors are now being fixed. Windows have been replaced. Pest control is now standard. Power is coming to all booths, and new chairs that were just sitting in storage are now helping these hard-working Local 199 members make it through the workday. A labor-management committee has been created to keep the good momentum going.

“Sometimes,” said Spicer, “you have to take a risk and see what is possible. We knew we were in this together and so did they – and that made all the difference.”

The success has even inspired more of the department’s employees to join the union. In fact, Local 199 membership at PortMiami has more than doubled.

AFSCME has never been stronger at PortMiami, now that the workers realize that they are the union and that, standing together, they are AFSCME Strong

Cab Drivers United Get Results on Police Harassment Mon, 13 Jul 2015 11:57:00 -0500 CHICAGO – Cab Drivers United/AFSCME is making a difference for cab drivers in this city by helping them tackle their biggest obstacles together.

Last March, Cab Drivers United set up a meeting with high-ranking Chicago Police Department officials to discuss policing practices that target cab drivers. As a result, the department issued a “cease and desist” to the officers who made a habit of targeting cab drivers. The results are in, and they look good.

“When we met with the Chicago Police Department, we talked about three officers who were responsible for 23 percent of all tickets written to cab drivers in 2014, which amounted to about 1,500 tickets,” said Nnamdi Uwazie, a veteran Chicago cab driver and Cab Drivers United/AFSCME member. “One of our members talked about receiving two tickets from two different officers for illegally parking his cab in two different locations at the exact same time.”

Cab Drivers United issued a formal open records request to find out if the officers heeded the warning. “Since our meeting in May, the three officers in question have issued zero tickets to cab drivers,” Uwazie said. “For so long drivers were at the mercy of the city, but now with Cab Drivers United/AFSCME, we have the power to demand respect and fight abuse.”

More than 4,000 Chicago cab drivers have joined Cab Drivers United/AFSCME to build a powerful union to advocate for respect and justice.

Retirees Build on Success, Look to Protect Retirement Security Fri, 10 Jul 2015 16:30:00 -0500 WASHINGTON, DC – More than 100 retirees gathered for the Alliance for Retired Americans Legislative Conference and the Annual AFSCME Retiree Council meeting in the nation’s capital this week, lobbying lawmakers to protect Social Security, Medicare and public pensions – programs under threat from corporate-backed lawmakers.

AFSCME retirees do have victories to celebrate, however. Addressing the Retiree Council July 10, AFSCME Pres. Lee Saunders cited to recent achievements. “In Nevada, retirees defeated a plan to turn the defined benefit (pension) plan into a risky defined contribution scheme,” he said. Also, in Texas, AFSCME Retirees helped save a pension system “in danger of collapsing” through 20 years of under-funding.

“They reached out to 6,500 retirees, lobbied legislators, testified at hearings and partnered with working members and with other groups,” President Saunders said. “This spring, the legislature passed a plan to fully fund the pension, without cutting retirement benefits or employee pay.”

President Saunders added, “We’re building on our success at a critical time for our union,” referring to the decision of the U.S. Supreme Court to take up a case, Friedrichs vs. California Teachers Association that “targets all public-sector workers.”

“By taking this case, the court is revisiting a decision that’s made it possible for people to stick together for a voice at work and in their communities,” he said. Responding to that threat, AFSCME members are now engaged in a campaign we call AFSCME Strong.

“Our campaign, AFSCME Strong, is all about coming together to achieve our goals for the future,” President Saunders explained. “We are preparing for the worst-case scenario: a ruling that undercuts workers’ rights and public-sector unions and eliminates fair share fees.

“There are no fee payers in AFSCME Retirees. You’ve made the choice to join because you understand what’s at stake,” he said. “That’s why we need you to be part of AFSCME Strong, to share your stories of solidarity and what it’s meant for you.”

Also addressing the AFSCME retirees was National Public Pension Coalition Exec. Dir. Bailey Childers.

Read more about the AFSCME Retirees Council here. Learn more about AFSCME Strong here.

Strong Moves in Albuquerque Wed, 08 Jul 2015 16:37:00 -0500 New Mexico, site of several labor victories this year, is ready to turn up the volume for workers’ rights through AFSCME Strong.

The first in a series of intensive two-day AFSCME Strong trainings was held June 25-26 in the Lujan Union Hall in Albuquerque, drawing 35 activists from New Mexico. They were intent on developing the skills necessary to build an active union membership, and share the vision that workers are stronger together.

"New Mexico union members won major victories this year with the defeat of scam right-to-work legislation and other anti-workers measures,” said Connie Derr, executive director of Council 18, as she opened the training session. “Now is the time to step it up because our adversaries are throwing everything they've got at us.”

Celesty Tsosie, president of Local 2777 in Farmington, said her goal was to impress on state workers the importance of the union. “As a first-time door knocker, I was full of anxiety. Once we started talking, that fear went away. I thought it was remarkable how informed and concerned union family members were about their husband or wife’s working conditions. As a union, the more communication we have, the better things can become.”

Daniel Solis, a detention officer at the Santa Fe County Detention Center and president of Local 1413, said communication must go beyond just greeting workers at the worksite. “Knowing our union members and the true issues was the first step. This training gave me the tools to bring motivation to a larger population in my local and make the PEOPLE program stronger as well.” 

San Jose City Workers Profit with AFSCME Strong Wed, 08 Jul 2015 15:09:00 -0500 Using AFSCME Strong campaign tactics to energize and mobilize members, Local 101 (Council 57) was able to win 9 percent wage increases during the three-year term of a new contract for San Jose city workers. Besides the long-overdue pay raise, the contract includes basic health insurance and retirement benefits for part-time workers, who account for nearly half of the city’s 3,000 workers.

The San Jose campaign is one of the latest in a series of successful efforts for members involving the AFSCME Strong training. It happened in Maryland when Gov. Larry Hogan tried to take away a hard-won 2-percent raise from state and university employees. And it happened in Jefferson County, Kentucky, when the public school board threatened furloughs, prompting direct action by workers.

In San Jose, Local 101 had faced years of hostile relations and vicious attacks on workers’ rights and public workers’ pensions. For the contract campaign this year, Local 101 mobilized AFSCME Strong coaches and activists to motivate city workers with one-on-one conversations, engaging them for a series of solidarity actions that pressured the City Council into doing the right thing.

Part-time workers also were instrumental in winning the new contract, with many of them signing up to become full AFSCME members and PEOPLE contributors.

Taking on local workplace issues together, joining hands to improve our lives, fighting for our families and our future – that’s what it means to be AFSCME Strong! 

To learn more about AFSCME Strong, check out this video.

Florida Budget Winners: A Select Few Tue, 07 Jul 2015 17:39:00 -0500 Now that Florida lawmakers have signed off on their $78 billion budget, which Gov. Rick Scott approved last month after vetoing more than $461 million in spending projects, we can sift through the small print to get a sense of what the governor considers important.

Let’s start with education, which most Floridians no doubt consider a priority.

  • $10 million cut from adult education programs geared to adults with disabilities and seniors, which will result in the layoff of 21 teachers in Tallahassee, according to the Tallahassee Democrat.
  • $2.5 million cut from a language development and literacy intervention program, and millions more cut from other local education programs, reports the Tampa Bay Times.
  • $2 million cut from the North Florida School of Special Education.
  • $2 million cut from Jacksonville University, money that “would have supported a university jobs program focusing on the science, technology, engineering and math fields,” reports WJCT News.
  • $ 15 million cut from the downtown campus of the University of Central Florida, reports the Orlando Sentinel.

Maybe we’re too harsh on Governor Scott. After all, such reckless budget decisions must have been tempered by support for spending on health care, especially after the state’s lawmakers declined to make affordable health care available to 800,000 residents by refusing to accept federal funds under Obamacare’s Medicaid expansion provision.

Maybe not. Wrote the Tampa Bay Times editorial board: (links added)

“There are disturbing threads running through a veto list that includes only the briefest of explanations, such as a lack of interest in investing in viable programs at nonprofit hospitals such as All Children's Hospital in St. Petersburg and in worthy social services.”

The Tampa Bay Times added that Governor Scott’s veto message “was a scorched earth approach that spared no area, from libraries to road projects, from Teach for America to Junior Achievement, from restoring a black church to buying a new research vessel to replace an aging one used by the Florida Institute of Oceanography at USFSP.”

In fact, a special session was necessary to even pass a budget because continued opposition to Medicaid expansion through the Affordable Care Act meant a loss in federal funding for public hospitals.

So what didn’t Governor Scott veto? Here’s one that shows his true priorities are not with the working families of Florida: a huge tax break for yacht owners. “The tax break bars the state from collecting more than $60,000 for any boat repairs,” writes CNBC reporter Robert Frank. “So, if you want to change the aging gold-leaf and lacquer interior of your 150-foot Feadship to a more modern white marble and crystal, your $10 million refit will be taxed the same as a $1 million job.”

Sweet … unless you are one of the 1,100 state public service workers whose jobs have been cut under the budget signed by Governor Scott, champion of the Florida Yacht Club. Floridians deserve better. Learn more at

Union Momentum Catching Public Eye Tue, 07 Jul 2015 15:46:00 -0500 Newspapers from coast to coast have begun to reflect the momentum we’re witnessing within AFSCME, and demonstrating to the public that unions are back and more relevant than ever.

Citing Washington Post reporter Dana Milbank’s decision to “come home to his union,” AFSCME Oregon Council 75 Exec. Dir. Ken Allen, also an AFSCME International vice president, explained in the Oregonian, why more than 1,600 nonmembers have signed a union membership card with Council 75 unions during the past year:

“People are fed up. They're working hard and not getting ahead,” Allen wrote. “They're watching as their children grow up to enter an economy where the stable, middle-class career seems like a distant memory. And they're starting to connect the dots between union membership and good jobs.”

The union organizing movement is even more dramatic nationwide, as AFSCME has signed up more than 140,000 members during the past year. The union stepped up its organizing efforts in anticipation of a Supreme Court decision in Friedrichs v. California Teachers Association, which could make it more difficult for unions to represent public-sector workers.

The activism of AFSCME members was captured by Washington Post reporter Lydia DePillis in a recent Wonkblog, following an AFSCME Strong training session in Baltimore.

“Public-sector unions haven’t been sitting passively by as the judicial juggernaut approaches,” she wrote. “Rather, they’ve embarked on a broad ‘internal organizing’ effort, reaching workers who may have been paying agency fees for years and never had any contact with a union representative.”

“None have been as aggressive as AFSCME,” she wrote, following the work of shop stewards like Andre Powell who are urging employees on their lunch hour to sign up for full-fledged membership. “It’s a continuous process, but it takes on a new meaning,” Powell says. “We’re holding our breath, biting our fingernails. We have to grow, if these court decisions don’t go our way.”

Success may be measured in the response of nonmembers or inactive members, like parole officer Monica Harris, who was listening to Powell’s pitch at lunch. “I learned that we are the union,” she announced. “I never thought of it like that before.”

That’s a message that many young workers are beginning to understand, as a recent Pew survey and the pro-union vote by Gawker employees indicates. As Allen writes, the power behind collective action becomes more and more appealing to every worker:

“A union quite literally gives us a seat at the table when the decisions about the future of our economy are made. After years of layoffs, low wages and tight budgets, we are more than ready to reclaim that seat.”

Read more about the recent AFSCME Strong training near Baltimore.

Tucson Fair Wages Push Is AFSCME Strong Mon, 06 Jul 2015 11:34:00 -0500 AFSCME Local 449 members are utilizing the tools they learned during their AFSCME Strong training to gain support to improve the lives of City of Tucson employees.

The more than 170 Tucson employees haven’t seen a decent pay raise in eight years, suffered through furlough days, lost their merit system increases, and had their last cost-of-living adjustment eaten up by increases to health insurance.

Jerry Gebell, chair of the AFSCME unit, blames it on a lack of respect for city workers and negligent spending by management.

“Managers contract out our work, frivolously remodel buildings, and pointlessly pave parking lots. They’re wasteful and show a huge lack of respect for the hard work we do to keep the city running,” said Gebell. 

Tired of the mishaps, Gebell recently denounced wasteful and questionable expenditures during a City Council meeting. He offered alternatives for the city to save money in order to fund effective workplace programs and a modest pay increase. 

More than 50 members joined Gebell by filling council chambers to address the mayor and Council in Tucson. Members from the Teamsters Local 104 stood in solidarity and spoke in support of the wage increase.

“It’s time the mayor and Council know that blue-collar employees expect their voices to be heard,” Gebell added. “We make this city run, without us there is no fire or police services, no clean water, no reliable streets and no clean parks.” 

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.”