It seemed like a good idea before the public actually heard about it. That’s probably what Indiana Gov. Mike Pence thought after he pulled the plug just days after word got out that he was planning to launch a state-run, taxpayer-funded news service that would offer pre-written news stories and breaking news about his administration.
“After thorough review of the preliminary planning and careful consideration of the concerns expressed, I am writing you to inform you that I have made a decision to terminate development of the JustIN website immediately,” Pence wrote in a statement.
Critics quickly nicknamed the proposed news spin cycle as “Pravda on the plains,” likening it to the state-run media outlet of the former Soviet communist party. Pence’s service was expected to launch its website in late February and be overseen by a former journalist from the Indianapolis Star. Reports indicated the service initially would cost taxpayers $100,000 in salaries to maintain it.
Initially the Pence administration defended the service as a “resource,” but critics weren’t buying it – especially in light of the governor’s dalliance with a run for President in 2016.
“This is a propaganda outlet, plain and simple,” said Mike Tully, an Indianapolis Star columnist, in a scathing response to the announcement. “This is a politician, one who already has an army of press secretaries trying to seize more control of what you read about the things he says and does.”
Pence hosted a conservative talk radio show that helped launch his election to Congress in 2002, so he knows the power of spreading a message unfiltered by objective reporting. He also bragged about continually voting to defund public broadcasting while in Congress. As governor, Pence has taken flack for deleting negative comments from his administration’s state-run Facebook page.
The irony of Pence’s about-face didn’t escape Tully. “It looks like nothing less than a lazy attempt to fool the public with fluffy stories and feel-good headlines that politicians historically have had to earn with smart policies and legislation. Hey, why work hard to earn those headlines when you can just write them yourself?”
MIAMI, Florida - An AFSCME retiree who is a life-long resident of Miami, a 31-year veteran employee of Jackson Memorial Hospital and a grandmother, made an emotional appeal to a panel of state legislators to restore cuts in social programs that Florida’s children desperately need.
“Simply put, I believe we are failing our children,” Melba White told a panel of state lawmakers from Miami-Dade County, referring to the harmful cuts to state agencies like the Department of Children and Families (DCF – Florida’s child protective services).
White should know. As a procurement specialist at Jackson Memorial Hospital, she worked with nurses and other health care professionals to make sure they had the equipment they needed best to provide quality care for their patients. White took her job very seriously because she knew that failure to procure the right equipment at a hospital could mean the difference between life and death.
Now retired, she was advocating on behalf of her seven grandchildren and other kids who might be left behind, citing a recent report on harmful cuts to the state workforce. “As a result of cuts to the Department of Children and Families (DCF), over 500 children, some from Miami, have lost their lives due to abuse or neglect,” she said. “Their deaths are a scandal, and a stain on our state.”
The report White mentioned contains shocking information, including the fact that massive cuts to Florida’s child protective services prevented the agency’s ability to monitor at-risk children and even prevent deaths. The issue has come to light most recently as an investigation is launched into a horrific incident in which a man is accused of having thrown his five-year-old daughter off a bridge. The man had been previously reported to DCF’s abuse hotline, and the investigation is ongoing.
“Our society must protect people who cannot help themselves, including the elderly and those who have fallen on hard times,” said White, urging lawmakers to do the right thing by voting to fund state services when they return to Tallahassee for the legislative session that begins March 3. “Every child we fail to protect, for me, as a grandmother, is one too many.”
Ever wonder what the benefit is to being in a union?
Well here’s a big one: On average, union members make $207 more dollars a week than non-union workers. That’s $10,000 more each year, according to the latest report from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.
“There is a direct link throughout American history between the strength of the middle class and the vitality of the labor movement. When unions are strong, working families thrive, with wages and productivity rising in tandem. But when the percentage of people represented by unions is low, there is downward pressure on wages and the middle class takes it on the chin.”
ROCHESTER, N.Y. – Coming out as lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgendered at work can be one of the most difficult choices a person can make. Once it is done, it can never be undone and word travels fast – so be prepared when you do. When it goes right, it feels wonderful to be able to be yourself and not be hidden away in a closet.
AFSCME and the AFL-CIO advocate for safe and inclusive workplaces for all workers, especially those who are often left behind. The AFL-CIO’s Pride at Work initiative plays an important role in improving the lives of LGBTQ working families, says Bess Watts, a library assistant from Monroe Community College near here who leads the local Pride at Work chapter.
“Pride at Work gives our members an opportunity to be who they are both at home and at work,” said Watts. “The members in the Rochester Finger Lakes chapter have worked so hard to gain the respect as an active member of the labor community. It’s been our philosophy that all issues affecting workers are issues for all workers.”
As New York state considered whether or not to allow for same sex marriage, Bess Watts and her chapter took to the streets, building lasting relationships and overcoming obstacles to garner the support of every major union, including police and fire, to force reluctant legislators to vote for equality. Their experience taking on their issues directly taught them that by working together, no obstacle was too great.
In recognition of their hard work, the AFL-CIO Rochester Finger Lakes Pride at Work chapter won the Pride at Work Constituency Group Award at the AFL-CIO Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Civil and Human Rights Conference on Jan. 18, 2015. “We were proud to receive the award from the AFL-CIO. Our members earned it through their hard work and advocacy,” Watts said.
“This is our chapter,” Watts emphasized. “We have worked so hard and come so far, but there is a lot of work left to do.” Watts prefers to defer the credit for the chapter’s success to her members, but it’s clear that her commitment to equality is deep rooted. “I served my country but had to leave because I could not serve in dignity,” Watts said of her military service.
“Leaders like Bess Watts, in her bravery and unrelenting resolve to advance the rights of all workers, especially those of the LGBTQ community, are an inspiration to me personally,” said CSEA/AFSCME Local 1000 Pres. Danny Donohue, also an International vice president. “Together, we will continue to create safe and inclusive workplaces for all workers.”
Rick Pospichal works in the registrar’s office at Winona State University in Minnesota, where he’s surrounded by young people who are preparing for a life beyond campus. But Pospichal believes that this generation needs more than a diploma to make it in the working world. They also need a strong labor movement that responds to the needs of young workers.
Pospichal is one of the two newly elected members of the AFL-CIO’s Young Workers Advisory Council, a board of young union members who care about the issues that matter most to people newly joining the workforce. He is already president of AFSCME Local 945 and an active member of Minnesota Young Workers. “I became involved because I think we can make a difference,” he says. “I think we can determine the future of the labor movement, and make sure it doesn’t fade away.”
At a meeting in Washington, DC, this month, the advisory council developed a youth platform that outlines the path to a strong new workforce. From free public higher education and more union apprenticeships to strong protection against discrimination and bigotry, there’s a lot of work to be done. And that work takes a union, just like it did when previous generations fought for safety standards and an eight-hour work day.
These efforts are more crucial now than ever, Pospichal reminds us. Millennials are graduating into an economy where good union jobs have been replaced with temp and hourly work. Unless young people can organize and advocate for workplace rights, they’re looking at a bleak future.
“We’re trying to provide young activists with the tools they need to build power,” Pospichal says. To start, he’s working with the council to organize the Next Up Summit this spring, March 19-22, in Chicago. Workshops will help activists launch statewide campaigns, start worker groups, and build support for issues like LGBT rights and racial equality. If you are interested in attending, please register online by Sunday, Feb. 15.
U.S. Secretary of Labor Thomas Perez made a strong case for the value of labor unions following the release of the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ 2014 Union Membership Report.
“Today’s report confirms what we’ve always known: that belonging to a union makes a powerful difference in people’s lives, providing greater economic security and helping them punch their ticket to the middle class,” Perez said Friday.
The report highlights that the median weekly earnings of nonunion workers ($763) were only 79 percent of earnings for workers who were union members ($970). As Perez points out, that’s no small difference. If you do the math, it amounts to $10,000 more a year for union members.
In addition, women who are union members earn salaries that are closer to parity with their male counterparts than those of nonunion women.
Perez noted, as President Obama did in his State of the Union address, that the American economy has bounced back from the brink. Nevertheless, he said, labor unions are more important now than ever.
“The economy is resurgent, with an unemployment rate well below 6 percent and job growth we haven’t experienced since the late 1990s,” Perez said. “The challenge we face now is creating shared prosperity, ensuring that our growing economy works for everyone. To do that, we need to turn up the volume on worker voice.”
Labor unions will help strengthen America’s middle class at a time when many families are struggling to make ends meet while saving for their children’s education and planning for retirement.
“There is a direct link throughout American history between the strength of the middle class and the vitality of the labor movement,” Perez recalled. “It’s not a coincidence. When unions are strong, working families thrive, with wages and productivity rising in tandem. But when the percentage of people represented by unions is low, there is downward pressure on wages and the middle class takes it on the chin.”
At a time when many elected state officials across the nation – including newly elected or reelected governors in Wisconsin, Michigan, Florida and Ohio – have vowed to take on labor unions and silence the voices of working families, Perez echoed President Obama’s call to strengthen, not weaken, laws that give workers a voice.
“That means protecting and strengthening collective bargaining rights, and it also means exploring new organizing strategies and other innovative approaches to empowering workers in a modern economy,” he said.
Although the 2014 Union Membership Report registered a small (0.2 percent) drop in union membership from 2013, AFSCME defied the odds, organizing 132,000 new members across the nation last year.
Doctors at all 10 student health centers at the University of California will conduct a one-day strike on Tuesday, Jan. 27, to protest the university’s lack of good-faith bargaining on a first contract. The doctors, members of the Union of American Physicians and Dentists, have filed multiple Unfair Labor Practice (ULP) charges with the Public Employee Relations Board.
“A ULP strike is the only way to compel UC to follow the laws that govern bargaining,” explained UAPD Pres. Stuart A. Bussey, M.D. “Unfortunately, UC has a history of disrespecting workers during negotiations, and we’re no exception to that.”
UC’s behavior has made it impossible for the student health doctors to reach a settlement on their first contract. UAPD members grew tired of UC’s unfair bargaining tactics prompting more than 90 percent of the membership to vote in favor of a ULP strike.
“We organized a union so that UC would respect doctors, and take seriously its obligation to provide health care, including adequate mental health services, to the students,” said Charles McDaniel, M.D., a psychiatrist who works at UCLA. “We have been trying to reach an agreement at the bargaining table, but UC’s ongoing unfair labor practices are standing in the way of that.”
The doctors will be joined on the picket line by UC students, community supporters and other UC employees as they send a message to the administration with their historic strike. It is the first strike by licensed doctors in the past 25 years.
CHICAGO – Mourning the Jan. 8 shooting death of driver Chinedu Madu, Cab Drivers United/AFSCME Council 31 raised money to help with funeral costs, and to support his widow and young son, while urging the city to implement reforms to protect the wellbeing of Chicago’s 12,000 cab drivers.
“Every single day we head out onto the road, we provide millions of Chicagoans a vital service, but we’re also prime targets for violent crime,” said David Adenenkan, a Cab Drivers United member. “Today we come together to remember brother Chinedu Madu, a fellow driver tragically murdered on the job.”
Adenenkan spoke at a brief memorial at O’Hare Airport. The drivers also held a memorial at Midway Airport, with Madu’s family present for both memorials.
“We not only raised over $3,000 so far, but we talked about needed reforms to ensure each and every one of us make it home safely to our families at the end of a shift,” said Cheryl Regina Miller, a longtime Chicago cab driver who spoke at the Midway Airport memorial. “Drivers have rights for compensation under Illinois’ workers’ compensation system, but we aren’t taught that in the training we go through to become cab drivers.”
Cab drivers are 20 times more likely to be murdered on the job than other workers, according to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration. The murder rate for all workers was 0.5 per 100,000 between 1998 and 2007, but for cab drivers the murder rate ranged from 9 per 100,000 to 19.
“The City of Chicago needs to take a long look at what’s being done to protect the health and wellbeing of cab drivers, and take proactive steps to prevent another tragedy like the one that’s fallen on the Madu family. We are sitting ducks out there,” Adenenkan said.
Cab Drivers United/AFSCME Council 31 will hold a safety training Feb. 11 with health and safety experts, and workers’ compensation attorneys, to educate cab drivers on their rights and to develop solutions to the epidemic plaguing cab drivers across the country.
As the task force continues its review, Cab Drivers United/AFSCME Council 31 will continue to build public support in the community for the drivers’ right to fair rules and due process.
Pennsylvania snowplow driver Stewart Ferguson first realized how important his job was during the blizzard of 1992-93, when he was able to clear a path for an ambulance carrying a woman who needed heart surgery. It was one of his first assignments, a life-or-death situation.
“Front Street in Harrisburg had three feet of snow,” Ferguson recalled. “We got her there safely.”
Everyone knows what the yellow PennDOT snowplow looks like, but all too often people ignore it, actually putting the snowplow drivers and themselves at risk, Ferguson said. “I’m focused on clearing the road. It’s dangerous when a driver passes me. Give me a break – and I’ll get you to your destination safely.”
Ferguson loves his job because he is able to help people get to their destinations – not only by clearing the roads in winter, but also by repairing them during such natural disasters as floods. “Two or three years ago, when the flood happened, we had to have a road replaced in Hershey. We did it in record time, so people could get back to work,” he explained.
“My job is important because I help move the public around safely,” said Ferguson. “I have been doing this for over 23 years and I will continue to do it because I love what I do.”
Across the nation, AFSCME women are leading the charge to create change for working families. Women leaders know that to accomplish our goals we must actively recruit new members and engage other members to join us, fight for the issues that matter most to us at the bargaining table and in state legislatures, and lift up the voices and stories of AFSCME members to promote the value of public services.
That’s why we are excited to announce the 2015AFSCMEWomen’s Leadership Academy, to be held from June to December of this year. The Academy, designed for women officers or activists at the local union level, prepares AFSCME women for future leadership roles in our union. Below are the requirements for participation in the Academy and a web address for the Academy application.
This six-month Academy will include:
A five-day orientation session on June 22-26, 2015, and a three-day closing session in December.
Completion of a local or council campaign project.
Frequent contact through social media and webinars.
The national union will pay travel costs, overnight accommodations (double occupancy), and meals for all formal sessions. Participants or affiliates are expected to cover any release time or lost wages.
Applicants must demonstrate:
Commitment to our 2015 priorities and to build AFSCME during the next decade.
Support from their AFSCME local or council.
Engagement in activities supporting Power to Win goals, for example: organizing new members or increasing member involvement, political action/PEOPLE recruitment, community allies work.
With a new legislative session underway in Sacramento, California’s home care providers are fighting for fair pay on two fronts.
The members of UDW/AFSCME Local 3930 battled for the past several years to restore a 7 percent cut to the hours of care that home care recipients can get through the state’s In-Home Supportive Services program (IHSS). At the same time, on the national front, they joined home care providers across the country to fight for the same minimum wage and overtime protections that other workers have enjoyed since 1938.
That hard work is paying off at the state level. On Jan. 9, Gov. Jerry Brown proposed a budget that restores funding to IHSS. The proposal comes after a year of strong advocacy by UDW members. Not only did they build support for IHSS funding, they also managed to secure a promise of overtime compensation.
For the first time ever, IHSS caregivers who work more than 40 hours in a week would be paid time-and-a-half. In addition, the state was scheduled to start compensating caregivers for the time they spend traveling and accompanying clients to doctors’ appointments.
However, the national fight for overtime protections hit a bump, and it is felt in California. On Jan. 15, the state Department of Social Services announced that it was backtracking on overtime pay, citing a recent federal court ruling that overturned the Department of Labor’s wage rules for home care providers.
The federal ruling does not prohibit the state of California from providing overtime, however, and UDW members say they won’t stop fighting until the state recognizes the sacrifices they make to provide quality services. They are urging supporters to sign this petition.
“Physically and mentally, this ruling hurts,” said Susana Saldana of Merced, a home care provider to her 28-year-old son who has physical and mental disabilities. “We aren’t at home relaxing and being companions. We work hard.”
“A lot of us are disappointed,” she added. “I thought I could do a lot more for my son, like taking him to the dentist and having his teeth cleaned.”
Home care providers work hard to make sure that seniors and people with disabilities have the option to live independently in their own homes. The decision to deny them a living wage hurts the thousands of people who rely on their care.
CHICAGO – A new report released by an independent panel of experts from across Chicago finds the present taxi system in dire need of reform.
The Workers Rights Board, chaired by Professor Robert Bruno from the School of Labor and Employment Relations at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign, released its findings from hearings last year, including recommendations for changing how the City of Chicago oversees the taxi industry that millions depend on.
“While reports have documented many taxi driver concerns about trying to earn a living in this very difficult industry, one of the most prominent sources of grievances was how a number of city agencies enforce the rules governing the terms and conditions of taxi service,” Bruno said. “The system the city has established to administer tickets, fines and licensure threats on drivers is at the root of escalating collective worker anger, and we believe it is in need of system change.”
Tracey Abman, associate director of Cab Drivers United/AFSCME Council 31, added that Chicago cab drivers are subject to a second layer of regulations that deny them the same due process protections enjoyed by rideshare drivers and the public at large.
“The problems detailed in this report have been exacerbated by the influx of rideshare companies,” Abman said. “The City of Chicago has created a set of harsh, unjust rules for cab drivers while allowing rideshare drivers to provide the same service under a separate, unequal unsafe system.
“Rideshare drivers who are cited go to the county court system where they have due process rights, where a witness against them must come forward in open court and are subjected to cross-examination,” she added. “Cab drivers are sent to a separate court, where the rules are arbitrary and opaque, where complainants are not required to be present or reveal their identity, and where city prosecutors routinely threaten drivers into forgoing their right to a hearing.”
In December, the City Council approved the Taxi Driver Fairness Ordinance, which required the city to establish a task force to review the rules that taxi drivers operate under and to make proposals for change, “with a view toward fairness on how taxicab drivers are regulated.”
As the task force continues its review, Cab Drivers United/AFSCME Council 31 will continue to build public support in the community for the drivers’ right to fair rules and due process.
Unlimited, secret spending by corporations is the sad legacy of the Supreme Court’s landmark decision known as Citizens United. Today, on the fifth anniversary of the 5-4 ruling, our political system is awash in a flood of money that has increased the power of big business to influence elections.
The ruling allowed corporations and other interest groups to spend unlimited funds on advertisements supporting or opposing candidates for federal office. They only had to ensure those ads were made independently of the campaigns they support.
The day the court handed down Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, President Obama issued a statement calling it “a major victory for big oil, Wall Street banks, health insurance companies and the other powerful interests that marshal their power every day in Washington to drown out the voices of everyday Americans.”
How much corporate money ends up paying for campaign ads is not required to be disclosed publicly. This so-called “dark money” flows into elections through “conduit” organizations such as Freedom Partners, backed by billionaire industrialists Charles and David Koch, responsible for about 1 in 4 dollars of the total “dark money” spent in 2012, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.
A whopping 38 percent of political ads aired in House, Senate and gubernatorial races since the start of the 2013-14 election cycle was paid for with “dark money,” according to an analysis by the Wesleyan Media Project and the Center for Responsive Politics. This means voters don’t have the information they need to understand who is trying to influence their vote.
Efforts to overturn Citizens United are underway, and AFSCME will work with our allies to close the floodgates of dark money. Our democracy depends on it.
Imagine that you hire a home improvement company to remodel your home. Would you sign on the dotted line and take out your checkbook unless it was absolutely clear to both you and the contractor what the work entailed and how much it would cost?
Unfortunately, that’s what many states and localities do, sign contracts with private companies and commit millions in taxpayer money without setting clear expectations of the contractor regarding the work involved and the time frame for completion.
Examples abound, according to a new report from In the Public Interest, a comprehensive resource center on privatization and responsible contracting.
“Problems with contract oversight are pervasive,” the report states. “These problems occur in cities and states across the country and across all sectors of government, including health and human services, criminal justice, information technology, education, public works, and more.”
The authors of the report identify five problems with contract oversight and issue recommendations for fixing them. The recommendations include:
• Incorporate oversight costs into any decision to outsource.
• Include clear performance standards and penalties for noncompliance in the request for proposals and contract.
• Provide adequate resources, including staff, training and funding, to oversee every contract.
• Do not outsource contract oversight.
The best bang for a taxpayer’s buck is still in the public sector, where dedicated public workers serve their communities with pride. But if a local or state government decides it must outsource, then the contracting must be done responsibly. This report offers useful guidelines for outsourcing in a responsible way.
After public safety workers in Hidalgo County, New Mexico, formed their own union in 2013 and contract negotiations began, county officials had two choices: to negotiate in good faith or to make the process as hard as possible for the cops, dispatchers and corrections officers who proudly serve their communities every day.
Their choice fell to the latter. In fact, county officials seem intent on wasting taxpayer money to stonewall the workers, members of Local 808. They hired high-paid consultants to delay the negotiations and already wasted $50,000 of taxpayer money on the consultants, more than the cost of doing the right thing to settle the workers’ first contract.
“For more than a year, Hidalgo County has been fighting the union on financial compensation for public safety personnel,” said Connie Derr, AFSCME Council 18 executive director. “The cost for these high-paid consultants to stonewall the workers is costing the county more than it would to settle the contract.”
Negotiations continued into the New Year and an agreement is nowhere in sight. This may not be surprising, given that the paid consultants have no incentive to bring the process to an end. Who wouldn’t want to continue to collect $150 an hour?
“AFSCME demands that these public safety workers who patrol your streets, maintain order in the jail and dispatch 911 calls be treated with the respect and dignity that their responsibilities deserve,” Derr said. “We are here to work with the county in an effort to end the downward trend of employees leaving the county and public service.”
Uber Technologies has been operating in the state since last July, yet neither the company, its affiliates, “nor any of its network partner drivers have obtained a Certificate of Public Convenience and Necessity prior to operating, as required” by state law, according to the cease-and-desist directive of Jan. 15.
While the company filed a petition for a certificate, a scheduled Jan. 26 hearing was suspended while various issues are investigated. “Consumers benefit from, and deserve choices in, the marketplace,” the Public Service Commission said in its directive. “However, those choices must be consistent with state law intended to protect the public.”
AFSCME has called on government agencies to require Uber to operate legally, so that it competes fairly with licensed taxi drivers, like those in Chicago and New Orleans who organized with AFSCME and want to work within the system to improve it.
Last year, members of AFSCME Local 1303-041, Council 4, in Weston, Connecticut, filed unfair labor practices against the city after it assigned bargaining unit work at the Weston Transfer Station to seasonal workers who were not members of the union, in violation of the contract.
All along they said the issue was never about the money.
“We believed this was work that should have been assigned to bargaining unit members,” said Local 1303-041 Pres. Al Blizzard.
Their determination paid off and this month the local won their case. And, in the spirit in which they waged their fight, the 11 members of the local agreed to donate the proceeds from their settlement to the Friends of the Weston Senior Activities Center.
President Blizzard said they chose the Senior Center because the needs of the elderly are often overlooked.
“It’s not only in Weston, but across America,” he said. “People tend to overlook the seniors when making charitable donations. Hopefully this will shine some light on this area of need in our society. We’re all going to be seniors someday, and we’ll need the valuable resources these centers offer.”
The total amount donated to the Senior Center was $2,780. A smaller amount was given to the Calvary Evangelical Church in Trumbull.
Had the AFSCME members elected to keep the money, they would each have received $363.64, not an insignificant amount. But giving is its own reward. Congratulations to our sisters and brothers of Local 1303-041.
Union members are happier with their lives than nonunion workers. Makes sense, right? Now comes a study that proves it.
The study, by two university researchers, concludes that “union members are more satisfied with their lives than those who are not members and that the substantive effect of union membership on life satisfaction is large and rivals other common predictors of quality of life.”
Patrick Flavin, an assistant professor at Baylor University, and Gregory Shufeldt, an assistant professor at the University of Arkansas, Little Rock, used U.S. data relating to income, education, gender, age, marital status, self-reported health, employment status and church attendance. The responses cover five different years between the early 1980s and mid-2000s.
“People who have union jobs like their jobs better,” Radliff said. “And that puts pressure on other employers to extend the same benefits and wages to compete with the union shops.”
In the United States, Flavin and Shufeldt say, “union membership boosts life satisfaction across demographic groups regardless if someone is rich or poor, male or female, young or old, or has a high or low level of education. These results suggest that organized labor in the United States can have significant implications for the quality of life that citizens experience.”
In an email interview with John Guida of Op-Talk, in The New York Times, Flavin and Shufeldt said that “union membership still has benefits, and that this is true for all union members. Simply put, if one goal of labor unions is to boost the quality of life for their members, our study provides empirical evidence that they are succeeding.”
UPDATE: You can stream Trash Dance for free until January 28 here on the Austin Chronicle website.
We don’t go into the public service to become movie stars, but a few AFSCME members have managed to turn their everyday trade into spectacular art. This week PBS will air a documentary called Trash Dance, which follows members of Local 1624 in Austin, Texas. These sanitation workers worked with a choreographer to turn waste collection into a stunning public performance.
Their creative methods showed the people of Austin just how much skill and dedication goes into sanitation work.
“I have had people in screenings say they really appreciate their trash collectors now, and it makes them feel proud,” says the director, Andrew Garrison, who touted the film as a counterpoint “in places where public employees are under attack.”
This award-winning documentary is a great opportunity to share what AFSCME is all about. Trash Dance will air on most PBS stations at 8 p.m. (EST), Jan. 13. If your station isn’t carrying the program, you can watch it online here and also chat while you watch. The movie will be available there until Jan. 28. You can also go to the website and order the DVD.
We are proud to see AFSCME sisters and brothers in the spotlight.
AFSCME member and former California state Sen. Norma Torres is a new member of the U.S. House of Representatives after being sworn in Jan. 6. She handily won election in November, gaining more than 63 percent of the vote.
“It is an honor and a privilege to serve in the United States Congress,” Representative Torres said. “I am humbled by the opportunity to represent the residents of California’s 35th District and am ready to get to work on their behalf.”
Torres served the City of Los Angeles as a 911 dispatcher and worked with her union to help ensure that the city addressed critical staffing needs. She was particularly concerned that lives of children were put at risk because of an inadequate number of bilingual operators to assist Spanish-speaking residents of LA.
“I just love that Norma set her goal to one day reach Congress because she saw it as the most effective way to help people in need – and she achieved it,” said Alice Goff, president of Local 3090. “It was heartwarming to see her excitement in taking the oath of office and a very proud moment for me to know that one of our own had come so far.”
Torres has dedicated her life to public service. In addition to working as a 911 dispatcher and state senator, she served as City Council member and mayor of Pomona, and member of the State Assembly (District 61 and District 52). During her time as a California legislator she worked to secure billions in federal funding to help working families and fought for better jobs in her district. She prides herself on being a public servant and has worked tirelessly to make government work for the people.
Besides being a member of AFSCME Local 3090, District Council 36, Torres volunteers with American Youth Soccer Organization, Big Sisters Program, Boy Scouts and Suicide Prevention Center.
AFSCME is proud to congratulate Rep. Norma Torres and looks forward to working with her to pass legislation that will help working families.
WASHINGTON, DC – As a corrections officer in Baltimore, Maryland, AFSCME member Lisa Henson has a front-row view of the damage that low wages do to our communities. Although she isn’t earning minimum wage herself, her concern for the people she sees every day motivated her to speak at the AFL-CIO’s National Summit on Raising Wages Wednesday at Gallaudet University.
“I think of each inmate as a human being who deserves dignity,” she told the crowd. “Many of these kids come from homes that can’t afford to survive, so they turn to the streets to survive. And that’s how they end up with me.”
Henson thinks that the key to widespread change is higher wages. Everyone suffers when poverty tears apart neighborhoods and families. Henson herself has a son who is trying to support his own family on an hourly job.
“People will provide for their family members when they can,” she says. “But when they can’t, our communities fall apart.”
The key message at the summit was that higher wages are not only necessary, but possible. U.S. Secretary of Labor Tom Perez argued that we can afford to pay workers more and build an “economy of shared prosperity” without harming economic growth. He noted that wages have stayed the same even though worker productivity rose more than 90 percent since 1970.
“Low wages are a choice, they are not a necessity,” he said. “Zero benefits are a choice, they are not a necessity.”
U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) echoed that sentiment.
“Look at the choices that Washington has made,” she said. “The choice to starve our schools while giving tax breaks to billionaires. The choice to look the other way while employers quit paying overtime, misclassified workers as independent contractors, and just plain stole people’s wages.”
Some states and municipalities are starting to set higher minimum wage rates, but nearly 30 percent of all workers are still making less than $11.45 per hour, which is the amount a full-time worker needs to earn to exceed the poverty level. Even as our economy begins to recover, these workers are getting left behind.
AFSCME stands in solidarity with low-wage workers in every sector, and we encourage our nation’s leaders to raise the wage.
The corporate-led effort to undermine the nation’s social safety net got off to a quick start in the new Congress, led by extremist lawmakers who ultimately want to privatize Social Security.
The newly elected House was not even one day old before the majority voted overwhelmingly Jan. 6 to approve a technical rule change that will increase the likelihood of a funding crisis with Social Security’s disability program. The vote was on a strictly party line, with no Democrat favoring the change.
Now, because of the rule change sponsored by Rep. Tom Reed (R-N.Y.), lawmakers seeking to introduce legislation to transfer money between the trust funds will also have to raise taxes or cut Social Security benefits to current and future seniors, widows, disabled workers or children.
“The rule change will have the effect of holding the DI trust fund hostage, and is a direct attack on seniors, disabled Americans and the Social Security trust fund,” said Barbara Easterling, president of the Alliance for Retired Americans.
The law that created Social Security will be 80 years old this August. The program has helped millions of Americans enjoy a decent retirement, and the disability program has helped millions more. Now, unless the trust fund is replenished, those beneficiaries will suffer a 20 percent cut in 2016.
Productivity and compensation went pretty much hand-in-hand from the end of World War II until the 1970s. But since then, productivity – defined as the output of goods and services per hours worked – grew substantially while worker compensation lagged, especially in the past 10 years.
“One key factor in the divergence between pay and productivity,” the EPI study reports, “is the widespread erosion of collective bargaining that has diminished the wages of both union and nonunion workers.”
From 1948 until 1973, productivity increased by 96.7 percent while hourly compensation increased by 91.3 percent. But from 1973 through 2013, productivity increased 74.4 percent while hourly compensation increased by only 9.2percent, the study reveals.
Employers could afford to pay better, but it’s not happening “because policy choices made on behalf of those with the most income, wealth and power have suppressed wage growth for the vast majority,” the study states. One of those choices has been to undermine collective bargaining. In states where collective bargaining declined the most, compensation grew the least.
The EPI report concludes: “Any effort to reestablish a link between pay and productivity growth will need to promote policies that enable workers to once again join unions and bargain collectively.”
In a setback for that nation’s fastest-growing profession, a federal judge has ruled that certain home care providers are not entitled to overtime pay. The last-minute decision reverses an effort by the U.S. Department of Labor that would have boosted providers’ pay starting January 1.
Affected homecare providers are those who work for a corporate home care agency and live in the home where they provide care – but only if they spend less than 20 percent of their time assisting with activities of daily and instrumental living.
Helping seniors and people with disabilities live independently in their own homes is a round-the-clock job, but most providers are still making less than a living wage.
The Fair Labor Standards Act guaranteed a minimum wage and overtime pay for most workers all the way back in 1938, but the law excluded domestic workers, including home care providers. Nearly 40 years later, in 1974, the law was amended to cover some types of domestic workers—but not home care providers. Now another 40 years have passed and almost 2 million workers are still waiting for the basic right to be paid for their long hours of work.
The Department of Labor this year announced that it would bring providers in line with other professions by guaranteeing time-and-a-half pay for extra time worked. But some corporate home care agencies, which rely on their workers’ low wages to boost profits, opposed the move in court.
The Department of Labor is considering its next legal move to reinstate this portion of the rule, including an appeal, but more legal battles are expected to be brought by the corporate home care industry.
AFSCME, which represents more than 100,000 home care providers, will continue to fight for fair wages for all workers.
For less fortunate children across Iowa who might otherwise have missed the joy of receiving a gift this holiday season, AFSCME Iowa Council 61 locals have donated more than $14,000 to Toys for Tots, eager to make a difference in the lives of Iowa’s kids. These donations are just a portion of the more than $27,000 donated to all charitable causes by locals in Iowa this holiday season.
“Every child should have an opportunity to experience the joy of a gift this holiday season,” said AFSCME Local 2985 Pres. Marty Hathaway, whose local donated $4,500. “Our members are proud to support Toys for Tots.”
AFSCME Local 2985’s relationship with Toys for Tots has grown each year since 2011, when Local 2985 union members returning from military deployments in Afghanistan and Iraq urged local leaders to donate funds to the charity.
“When they came back it was around Christmastime, and we wanted to do something special for their families,” Hathaway said. “They told us to donate to the Marine Toys for Tots Foundation.”
A partial list of AFSCME Iowa Council 61 locals donating to Toys for Toys and other charitable causes this year includes: Locals 12, 35, 183, 212, 451, 525, 1068, 1100, 1127, 1141, 1868, 2005, 2051, 2659, 2840, 2985, 2987, 2989, 2990, 2991, 2992, 2993, 2997, 2998, 3007, 3009, 3018, 3450, 3576, 3590, and 3861. The list is growing as AFSCME Iowa Council 61 continues to record donations by locals in Iowa.
“A donation like this to our size community is a wonderful gift,” said Michele Matt, Linn County’s Toys for Tots representative. “We have over 2,000 kids registered to receive toys for Christmas, so this came in the nick of time.”