Week Ending June 28, 2019

Public Service Freedom to Negotiate Act Introduced

  • Legislation Introduced to Protect Bargaining Rights; AFSCME Testifies at Hearing
  • 9/11 Victim Compensation Fund Reauthorization Ready to Move
  • Securing Our Nation’s Voting Systems
  • SCOTUS Blocks Citizenship Question on the 2020 Census for Now
  • House Democrats Demand Action for Children’s Safety and Accountability

Legislation Introduced to Protect Bargaining Rights; AFSCME Testifies at Hearing

The “Public Service Freedom to Negotiate Act” (H.R. 3463/S. 1970) would safeguard public service workers’ right to a seat at the table by setting a minimum nationwide standard of collective bargaining rights that states must provide. The legislation was introduced in the House by Rep. Matt Cartwright (D-Pennsylvania) and in the Senate by Sen. Mazie Hirono (D-Hawaii). The House Subcommittee on Health, Employment, Labor and Pensions of the Education and Labor Committee also convened a hearing to receive testimony on the legislation. AFSCME Deputy General Counsel Teague Paterson testified at the hearing, providing members of Congress with information on the benefits of strong collective bargaining rights, the harms being caused by anti-union legislation adopted in Wisconsin, Iowa and other states, and the importance of establishing a minimum standard of bargaining rights. 

  • The Right to Bargain is a Fundamental Right – The legislation would give all public service workers many of the same basic rights and freedoms enjoyed by their private sector counterparts, including the right to join together in a union selected by a majority of employees; to collectively bargain over wages, hours, and terms and conditions of employment; to access dispute resolution mechanisms such as mediation or arbitration to use voluntary payroll deduction for union dues; to engage in activities related to collective bargaining and mutual aid; to not have their union be subject to rigged recertification elections; and to sue in court to enforce their labor rights. See a fact sheet on the bill here.
  • Strong Support Expressed for the Bill – A number of members of Congress delivered strong statements of support for the bill at the hearing and at a press conference held before the hearing. AFSCME Member Tina Suckow from Iowa, who spoke at the press conference via telephone, spoke about the harm she suffered on the job after Iowa took away collective bargaining rights. Rep. Abby Finkenauer (D-Iowa) has stepped up to help lead efforts to advance this bill. She shared her experience as a former state legislator, when she fought the 2017 Iowa law gutting collective bargaining. She noted the harmful results that followed, including the loss of 1,000 state jobs, staffing shortages, and increases in preventable workplace violence – like Tina’s – as reasons why this bill is needed.

What You Need to Know: The bill is needed to unrig a system that favors the wealthy over working people. It marks another big step forward in the growing political and grassroots momentum behind unions after years of attacks on workers from right-wing special interests and politicians. “America’s workers have withstood attack after attack on their right to organize. With renewed energy they are organizing in unions to reclaim their power,” said AFSCME President Lee Saunders. “This legislation is about defending the freedom of public sector employees to form and join unions if they choose to do so.” Now that the legislation has been introduced, AFSCME will be working to build support for the legislation in Congress. AFSCME members are encouraged to contact their members of Congress and ask them to co-sponsor and support the bills.

Call your representatives today at 1-866-584-5728.

Urge them to support H.R. 3436, the “Public Service Freedom to Negotiate Act,” to level the playing field for working families. This bill will protect our rights as public employees to have a voice on the job and to join together in a union for a fair return on our work.

9/11 Victim Compensation Fund Reauthorization Ready to Move

Earlier this month, the House Judiciary Committee passed the “Never Forget the Heroes: Permanent Authorization of the September 11th Victim Compensation Fund (VCF) Act” (H.R. 1327). The Senate bill (S. 546) has now gained enough Senate co-sponsors (60) to withstand any potential filibuster attempt. Further, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Kentucky) agreed to bring the measure to the Senate floor in July after a meeting with 9/11 first responders and advocates.

  • Senate Filibuster Won’t Stand – In 2010, GOP senators filibustered an early version of the bill. In 2015, the Senate finally passed it as part of a government spending bill.

What You Need to Know: Since being reopened in 2011, the fund has received nearly 40,000 claims and made nearly 25,000 determinations for injured or killed responders and survivors or their families. Unless Congress acts, the September 11th Victim Compensation Fund will run out of money and its authorization will expire before those who helped the United States on 9/11 will be able to apply for and use the VCF’s assistance.

Securing Our Nation’s Voting Systems

This week, in a 225 to 184 vote, members of the House voted to pass the “Securing America’s Federal Elections (SAFE) Act” (H.R. 2722). The SAFE Act is a very important step in securing our nation’s voting systems. This bill:

  • Verified Paper Trail – Requires each state to use either paper ballots or voting machines to produce a verifiable paper trail; 
  • Routine Audits – Further develops and expands routine audits of voting systems to identify and limit the risks of inaccurate tallies;
  • Resources Provided – Provides resources for an Election Assistance Commission grant program to assist states and localities in securing election infrastructure, and sets aside biannual funding to maintain election infrastructure;
  • Training Required – Ensures election vendors will be certified by creating an accountability designation, provides localities with cybersecurity training and implements safeguards to protect our systems from attack. 

What You Need to Know: We are months away from the next national election. Federal action is needed to make our election infrastructure safer. Election officials in 40 states cite that many of the machines they use are at least a decade old and may need to be replaced for security and liability reasons. Hardworking Americans want to know that when they exercise their most basic constitutional right – the right to vote – their vote is accurately counted.

SCOTUS Blocks Citizenship Question on the 2020 Census for Now

The Supreme Court blocked a citizenship question from appearing on the 2020 census – for the time being. The court ruled in a 5 to 4 decision to return the case to lower courts for further action. The final decision could come from Judge Jesse M. Furman of the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York.

  • Why Is This Important – In January, Furman ruled against the Trump administration’s push for a new citizenship question on the 2020 Census. He called the decision to include the question “arbitrary and unlawful” for a multitude of independent reasons. 
  • The SCOTUS Opinion –  Writing for the majority, Chief Justice John Roberts said, “Altogether, the evidence tells a story that does not match the secretary’s explanation,” referring to Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross, who said the citizenship question has nothing to do with politics. Roberts further stated in the opinion, “The sole stated reason seems to have been contrived.”

What You Need to Know: At a congressional hearing last year, Ross said the Trump administration wanted to use the responses to the citizenship question to better enforce Voting Rights Act provisions. Roberts dismissed this claim. Newly unearthed evidence links  the original idea for including the question to campaign operatives who sought to disenfranchise minorities. The decennial census is a key government function that aims to count everyone living in the U.S. to determine representation in Congress and allocate hundreds of billions of dollars in federal funds. The Commerce Department and the Census Bureau should respect the Supreme Court’s decision and immediately proceed with preparations for a 2020 census that does not include the citizenship question.

House Democrats Demand Action for Children’s Safety and Accountability

The House and Senate passed a bipartisan emergency humanitarian supplemental appropriations package to help protect immigrant children who have been separated from their families, detained in overcrowded camps, and are in poor health due to unsanitary conditions, a inadequate resources as well as poor planning and chaotic policy making by the Trump administration. Reports indicate that at least six children and 10 adults have died while in U.S. custody or shortly after their release in the past year. Pressed for time, the House of Representatives reluctantly passed the Senate version. 

  • Why Are So Many Immigrants Seeking Asylum?: International studies argue that Central American countries have become more dangerous, especially for children, than even Afghanistan or Syria.  In situations of this nature, there exists a recognized human right of immigrants to lawfully seek asylum elsewhere. Immigrants are knocking on America’s doors, requesting asylum and being detained in camps, with infants and children often being separated from their parents for weeks and months and under harsh conditions; others are being turned away. 
  • Trump Administration Not Working with Other Countries: Rather than working with other countries, as previous administrations have done, to lessen migration patterns to the U.S. or focusing on the stabilization of these affected nations, the Trump administration has focused first on enforcement policies, hoping to deter those seeking refuge from arriving at the U.S. border in the first place.
  • Fundamental Fairness and Economic Justice at Stake: Many Americans, including AFSCME members, expect asylum seekers from violent and destitute countries to  be treated humanely. They reject immigration policies based on religion, race or ethnicity and oppose family separation and long-term detention of youth and parents who pose no public threat. They also demand the immediate reunification of any families that remain separated.

What You Need to Know:  The unfortunate truth is that children and families are dying due to anti-immigrant, inhumane and politically motivated policies. AFSCME continues to advocate for an end to the human anguish and moral crisis, calling for a real immigration reform policy.

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