AFSCME members were among some 5,000 Wisconsin union and community members who rallied here Tuesday and Wednesday to protest the “right-to-work” scam that was rushed through and approved by the State Senate Wednesday. The Senate voted 17-15 late in the evening to move the bill forward despite hearing testimony from thousands about how the bill would hurt their families by lowering wages for all Wisconsin workers while also undermining workplace health and safety.
With hundreds of Wisconsinites waiting to give their testimony on Tuesday, Senate Labor and Government Reform Committee Chairman Steve Nass abruptly cut the hearing short, citing a “credible threat” to disrupt it. Nass refused to present evidence of any credible threat.
At the Wednesday rally, speakers slammed Nass and his allies in the Senate for listening to outside special interest groups instead of people who actually live in Wisconsin and for walking away from the rally. “I was here at the Capitol, waiting since 10 a.m. to give testimony when our elected officials decided to undemocratically silence my voice,” said Connie Smith, Wisconsin Federation of Nurses & Health Professionals. “So I am here today because I will not be silenced.”
AUSTIN, Texas – AFSCME Texas Corrections members from Huntsville, Palestine, Gatesville and Angleton showed up in full force Feb. 23 to testify before the Senate Finance Committee about the importance of addressing pension and pay raise issues during this legislative session.
Brad Livingston, executive director of the Texas Department of Criminal Justice, presented the department’s requested budget, which includes a 10 percent pay increase for correctional employees. “The increase will help fill vacancies in areas where we are competing with oil fields for employment,” said Livingston.
AFSCME Texas Corrections commends the TDCJ for supporting a pay raise, but is pushing for more than 10 percent. Vacancies and short staffing are issues across all 106 state-run facilities. AFSCME Texas Corrections submitted a proposal to increase retention by putting state correctional employee pay rates on par with the five largest counties in the state, which on average receive about $4,500 more than TDCJ employees.
Sgt. Jackie Parsonage, from the Jester IV unit, testified about the tough decisions officers in her unit have to make due to the low wages they receive. “I’ve had to pick officers up and drive them to work because they couldn’t afford to put gas in their car. They have to decide between putting food on the table and addressing their medical needs,” said Parsonage.
“TDCJ is the second largest prison system in the United States but has some of the lowest-paid correctional employees,” said Local 3920 President Catherine Wilson, CO IV, Marlin Unit, in her testimony. “We deserve better pay to allow us to do our jobs more effectively and efficiently.”
Besides their testimony, AFSCME Texas Corrections members delivered cards to the offices of legislators, urging them to approve pay raises. The cards were signed by more than 8,000 correctional employees.
Richard Salazar, laundry manager from the Powledge unit, received a mixed reception during his office visits. “Senator (Kevin) Eltife’s office was very well versed on our issues. I was able to sit down and talk in detail about the issues we face as correctional employees and at my unit specifically. Some of the others were completely out of touch with what we deal with on a daily basis,” said Salazar. “It’s going to take more visits and more correctional employees reaching out to their elected officials to really get the changes we deserve.”
Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker owes the nation an apology for comparing the public service workers who protested his decision to take away their bargaining rights with the murderous terrorists of the Islamic State, said AFSCME Pres. Lee Saunders, who characterized Walker’s statement as “disgusting.”
President Saunders called Governor Walker’s statement “the desperate act of a craven, career politician, not a leader whose values are aligned with what this country stands for. In Madison, we marched alongside military veterans, firefighters, police officers, nurses, librarians and teachers. There were senior citizens and children. College students and clergy."
In demanding that the governor apologize to the nation, Saunders cited the many AFSCME members who responded (and died) during the terrorist attacks in New York on 9-11.
“We’re not going to stand by and let Scott Walker smear hard-working Americans, simply because they exercise their first amendment freedom to disagree with him,” he said. “You don’t attack good men and women who give their time every day to make this country a better place.”
Others condemning Walker’s statement included Jim Tucciarelli, president of AFSCME Local 1320 in New York, who witnessed the attack on the World Trade Center and lost friends there. “Governor Walker, I know terrorism,” he said. “Today, after hearing your words, I also know the sound of cowardice.”
Carroll Braun, a retired police officer from Hagerstown, Md., and a member of AFSCME Council 67, said in an interview that his first reaction was outrage. “Then I was totally disappointed that a governor who is running for president of the United States is comparing union workers to terrorists.”
Braun said those demonstrators were simply public employees, many like him who worked hard every day to keep the public safe. “I was a police officer and union member for 25 years,” he said. “Now I’m being compared to people who killed and burned people alive. Walker is not qualified to be president, making statements like this. If he’s got that much hatred toward public employees, how can he run the government?”
The decline in America of major industries, offshoring of jobs and “the rise of relentlessly anti-union companies” all hurt the labor movement, but workers still demand a voice on the job through a union, and it is the job of labor to help them gain it, contends AFSCME’s Paul Booth in an article recently published in The American Prospect magazine.
Booth, executive assistant to AFSCME Pres. Lee Saunders, takes issue with those who say organizing new union members “is impossible, futile, or a thing of the past,” or simply that “the labor movement is dead, or dying.”
“I am upset that there’s so little acknowledgement of the millions of workers who have risked much to try to unionize” over the past 40 years, he wrote in the article, titled “Labor at a Crossroads:The Case for Union Organizing.”
To counteract the effects of all the anti-union strategies that eroded labor’s ranks, “many unions changed what they did, and how they did it,” he wrote. That included helping to organize millions of workers in occupations not previously served by unions. They include “home care and child care providers, nurses and emergency medical technicians, hotel workers, adjunct college teachers, transportation security officers, taxi drivers, wireless telecom workers, drug store workers, truck drivers in ports, pickle harvesters, bakery workers and passenger service agents.”
Booth wrote there also is a growing worker movement “outside of the unions” that includes temporary, casual and contractual workers. Even so, he wrote, “they are indeed part of the worker movement” and they “need to find a way to combine with existing unions” as other workers have done for decades.
“So let us all be missionaries – missionaries for solidarity, for organizing, for growing our unions and for the fights for justice,” Booth wrote. “It’s not a new idea, but it’s the right idea. Organizing the unorganized is the highest priority for labor, and for all of our hopes for change.”
At a time when overcrowding is the rule rather than the exception in Ohio prisons, four correction officers, members of the Ohio Civil Service Employees Association/AFSCME Local 11, were attacked by a large group of inmates in one of Ross Correctional Institution’s housing units. Two of the officers suffered broken bones as a result of the attack.
Injured were Officers Brian McGraw, Larry Patterson, Steve Stutz and Walter Rumer. McGraw suffered a broken eye socket and is back at the institution on a return-to-work, partial-duty program. Patterson is recovering at home with a broken hand and may receive further medical treatment before returning to work. Stutz and Rumer were not seriously injured and are back to their normal duties.
The attack happened when two officers were sent into the housing unit to transfer an inmate to an isolation cell after he acted violently against an outside visitor. It’s unclear if the attack was planned or improvised. An investigation is under way. At least 15 inmates — thought to be involved in the attack against the officers — were transferred to Southern Ohio Correctional Facility, a maximum security prison, following the attack.
Chris Minney, a correction officer at Ross who is president of AFSCME Chapter 7130, OCSEA, said it was the first time she’s seen a group of officers targeted by inmates in her 22-plus years of experience. “We do not typically see this happen,” she said.
While Ross Correctional Institute is meant to house at most 1,050 inmates, the current tally is 2,170, or more than twice the maximum. Officers have been begging for more support, but management has been further reducing their numbers in recent years. Security posts have been cut, leaving officers feeling more vulnerable.
“There are not enough of us to go around and make sure all work is getting done in a good manner,” Minney said. “We need more staff, but not in management positions. We need staff in the boots-on-the-ground area.”
By watching over some of the most violent and dangerous individuals in our communities, correction officers keep our communities safe. In return, they should have safe workplaces, where incidents like Saturday’s attack can be prevented.
“We applaud Judge Jacobson’s correct decision,” said Sheryl Gordon, AFSCME Council 1 executive director. “This is a step in the right direction to make the thousands of dedicated women and men who keep this state moving whole.”
The decision identified clearly that, unlike Governor Christie, state employees continued to live up to their part of the deal. “Notably, State employees have continued to make increased contributions to the pension funds throughout this period, while the State’s required contributions to the funds have been severely truncated,” Judge Jacobson wrote.
“Thousands of AFSCME members, who we represent, go to work every day to make our neighborhoods, cities and towns better,” said Mattie Harrell, AFSCME Council 71 executive director and also International vice president. “They do their part, they give their all – it’s time for the state to do its part.”
In the scathing judgment, Judge Jacobson ordered Christie to make the state’s portion of the payment to the state pension fund. “When a State itself enters into a contract, it cannot simply walk away from its financial obligations,” she stated. “A promise to pay, with a reserved right to deny or change the effect of the promise, is an absurdity.”
“By simply stepping away from the state’s obligation, Chris Christie once again sent a clear message to all New Jersey workers that he has no respect for the work they do,” said Gerard Meara, AFSCME Council 73 executive director.
Added AFSCME Council 52 Executive Director Richard Gollin, “time and time again, this governor consistently scapegoats public employees to further his real political ambitions and hide his failures as governor.”
WASHINGTON, DC – Sgt. David Orr, a Norwalk, Conn., public safety officer and AFSCME Local 1727 member, urged the President’s Task Force on 21st Century Policing to recommend extending workman’s compensation to cover Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. In his Feb. 23 testimony, Orr cited the psychological injuries suffered by police officers in the tragedy and aftermath of the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting in Newtown.
“As cops, we all know that those outside of our profession love to hear a good war story,” said Orr. ”But nobody wants to hear the story told by the Newtown officer who responded to Sandy Hook Elementary and entered the first grade classroom to find an entire class full of 6-year-old children murdered by a deranged young man with an assault rifle.”
He reminded the panel that police officers go to work every day to deal with the issues society prefers to ignore and do so because they understand that by going to work they are keeping their communities safer. “We as officers will continue to voluntarily insert our bodies and minds into these events in an effort to help. Most of us will emerge and find a way to cope with what we’ve experienced, but some will not.”
PTSD is recognized by 32 states as a coverable injury under workman’s compensation. However, Connecticut is one of the 18 states that doesn’t cover PTSD. “It is time for every state to recognize the sacrifice that these brave men and women make daily to protect and serve,” said Patrick Gaynor, AFSCME Council 15 president. “We stand by Sergeant Orr’s request and call on President Obama to take necessary steps to include workman’s compensation coverage for job-related PTSD and other psychological injuries that officers sustain in the line of duty.”
Last year, members of the Newtown Police Union, AFSCME Local 3153, took this same message to the Connecticut legislature, only to have it fall on deaf ears. “Perhaps a nudge from the President will wake up the legislature in states like Connecticut that fail to recognize the commitment it takes for these brave men and women to go to work,” closed Gaynor.
The Task Force is due to submit its proposal to President Obama on March 2. The 100,000 public safety officers AFSCME represents nationwide will continue to push for comprehensive workman’s compensation – in Connecticut and other states.
Canine Connection has been around for more than 15 years, but recently suffered a significant decrease in donations. Unless it can raise the level of funding, it will be forced to make several program component cuts or possibly close its doors, to the detriment of both the youth and the dogs in the program.
Program Dir. Jo Simpson, in an interview with a local TV station, expressed her concerns that “donations are at their lowest level since the program started. I'm very worried. We can't offer vocational training, we can't make repairs, can't care for the dogs and cover vet bills if we don't have funding.
AFSCME members employed at the Echo Glen Children’s Center in Snoqualmie, Washington, strongly support the program because they’ve seen the positive effect Canine Connection has on both the canines and young adults. Juvenile rehabilitation counselors represented by Local 341 help pair the children with canines on death row from dog pounds in Washington, Idaho and California.
Echo Glen’s children are taught to work with the dogs directly. They learn to respect, train, bathe and socialize them so they are ready to be adopted by a new family. As the program progresses, they become more responsible, caring and committed to a task, and seeing it through. This has proven to provide mental and emotional benefits to the children. Additionally, the vocational training that kids receive earns credits toward their school diploma.
At the completion of the program, students are judged by a 4-H community expert on their dog handling skills and the dog on his basic obedience skills. An exit interview by the student handler with the new adoptive family is conducted in order to help with the “letting go” process. An awards ceremony is held for the students afterwards.
“Many counselors recognize a difference in both the kids and the dogs,” added Wayne “Bear” Beresford, an AFSCME Local 341 member and security officer. “Rescue dogs find a family happy to welcome a rehabilitated pet into their home. The children use their new attitude and skillset in the facility. And counselors benefit from the transformation of troubled youth.”
Canine Connection has currently raised more than half of its $20,000 funding goal to continue running the program. If you'd like to help, please visit Canine Connection's GoFundMe page.
WESTERVILLE, Ohio – The union representing the majority of Ohio prison employees presented a proposal to the Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction to take back prison food service, which includes a lower per-meal cost than current prison food service vendor, Aramark.
The proposal by the Ohio Civil Service Employees Association, presented Feb. 23, comes in at $1.216 per meal. Aramark’s cost is $1.275. The bid would save $2.9 million a year over the Aramark cost.
“Our proposal proves, when there’s a level playing field, public sector employees are every bit as competitive as those in the private sector,” said OCSEA Pres. Christopher Mabe, also an AFSCME International vice president. “Now, DR&C just needs to do the right thing and bring food service back under state control.”
Not only is OCSEA’s per-meal cost lower than Aramark’s price, its proposal also includes such provisions as beefed-up security and sanitation training for 338 correctional food service coordinators. In addition, OCSEA’s proposal would bring back 41 food service managers whose primary responsibility is sanitation. The bid also would keep the use of four regional monitors who were brought in with the private vendor, because the union says it is serious about cleaning up the institutions.
Numerous security and sanitation violations including maggots in food, inappropriate relationships, increased contraband, and staff and food shortages highlighted the inadequacy of Aramark’s staff training. When the contract began, Aramark employees received a scant eight hours of training. After numerous reports of security and sanitation violations, DR&C required the vendor to increase its training to 32 hours, but at the agency’s expense.
OCSEA’s proposal would bring back an even higher level of training and require food service workers to receive the same six-week training as correctional officers. Additionally, instead of only managers receiving ServSafe certification, as is Aramark’s practice, the union’s proposal will certify all food service workers.
Also under OCSEA’s bid, dozens of lieutenants and captains who were relocated to prison kitchens to monitor food service will return to providing needed security in other areas of the prisons.
“We believe that with well-trained staff compensated fairly, many of the security and sanitation problems we’ve experienced in prison food service will be minimized,” said Mabe.
MADISON, Wisconsin – Four years after Gov. Scott Walker infuriated Wisconsin’s working families by stripping public service workers of their collective bargaining rights, he and his friends in the Legislature are at it again. And this time, ALL workers are in the crosshairs of the attack.
The Wisconsin Legislature held a hearing Feb. 24 for a so-called right-to-work bill that would undermine union rights for private sector workers. These kinds of laws have been used to weaken unions and bring down wages across the country, so it’s no wonder that Wisconsin workers are ready to fight back.
More than 5,000 people turned out to the Capitol building here to tell their elected representatives they’ve had enough of union bashing by the state’s political leaders. The AFSCME members in the crowd already experienced Walker’s heavy-handed tactics, and are ready to continue the fight with their sisters and brothers in the private sector.
“We're standing with them because they stood with us four years ago,” says Gary Mitchell, AFSCME International vice president and president of Local 2412 in Madison. “We’re all in this together.”
The proposed legislation is just one more chapter in the Walker administration’s crusade against Wisconsin’s middle class. The legislation is projected to bring down wages and benefits for Wisconsin families. “This is about fighting back for the rights of all workers to put a roof over their families’ heads, to put food on the table, and to be respected and treated with dignity in the workplace,” said Local 720 member Ryan Wherley.
Maggie Thomas of Local 2634, who used her personal vacation time to attend the rally, said the problem is bigger than any one law. She’s protesting the administration’s entire agenda. "I don't want people to forget about the budget,” she says. “It's going to hurt real people."
As Scott Walker prepares for a possible Presidential run, he’s giving the nation a clear picture of what his leadership looks like, and it’s not pretty. He is promising to give our nation what he’s giving Wisconsin: a raw deal for working families.
The 50th anniversary of the Selma-to-Montgomery, Alabama, marches that led to the passage of the Voting Rights Act are an important part of this year’s celebration of Black History Month. As part of the observance at AFSCME, Dr. Clarence Lusane of American University spoke about the march, the recent movie it inspired, and why voting rights activism is as important now as ever.
“I like to call it not just Black History Month but also ‘black present and future month,’” says Dr. Lusane. “We need to connect the past to what is going on now and where we go next.”
Lusane, whose grandmother marched from Selma to Montgomery in 1965, says we must remember that the civil rights movement was driven by ordinary people, many of them women. While the history books focus on a few big names, it was the work of thousands of average citizens that brought about some of the most important legislation in American history.
But now that crucial legislation is being dismantled by the courts and our elected officials. In 2013, the Supreme Court struck down Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act, which prohibited local governments from placing restrictions on voting. Within hours of the ruling, state governments were redrawing district maps, eliminating early voting and same-day registration, and proposing “Voter ID” laws that would disenfranchise millions of Americans, many of them seniors who have been voting for decades.
With the movie ‘Selma’ in theaters, there is hope that a new generation will take up the cause for free and fair voting rights. AFSCME members continue to fight in the spirit of Selma. We can’t let the rights that so many black heroes fought for, even died for, slip away 50 years later.
TAMPA – Participating in the first White House Conference on Aging in a decade, Carol Ann Loehndorf, president of AFSCME Retirees Chapter 79 in Florida, said afterward that the nation’s policy leaders need to work hard to ensure that current and future retirees can rely on a secure “safety net” of Social Security, Medicare/Medicaid and pensions.
“Aging is naturally going to happen to all of us, and being prepared for it, and trying to achieve the most satisfaction is important for all of us,” said the 73-year-old retired state social worker, who was raised on Social Security survivor benefits along with her brother.
Focusing public attention on retirement security is especially important as the nation this year marks the 50th anniversary of Medicare and Medicaid, and the 80th anniversary of Social Security. Social Security privatization is once again on the political agenda of right-wing lawmakers, while efforts to preserve Social Security and Medicare, and to expand access to Medicaid coverage, are in the daily headlines. Nationwide, pensions are also under attack.
Loehndorf said she was “quite thrilled” to be invited to the Tampa event. In addition to listening to experts discuss healthy aging, long-term services and supports, and retirement security, she also participated in a break-out session on retirement security. With private sector pensions declining, conservatives and businesses claim that 401(k)-style savings plans can replace defined-benefit employer pensions, Loehndorf responds that you can’t save what you don’t earn.
“So many Americans are not able to save money and plan for the future now” because wages have been stagnant for the last 30 years, she explained.
In addition, those who have pensions, including police, firefighters, teachers and other public service workers, face the loss of promised benefits as state lawmakers hand out tax breaks for corporations, diverting revenue that could have been used to fully fund their employees’ pensions.
“To improve on pension security, you’ve got to make sure that when people have pensions, those pensions stay fully funded,” Loehndorf said. “People need to be able to count on what they’ve been promised.”
CHICAGO – Frustrated by the city’s failure to properly address serious issues surrounding the so-called “rideshare” industry, more than 300 members of Cab Drivers United/AFSCME Council 31 braved sub-zero wind chills to protest outside City Hall.
“After two years of operating illegally in Chicago, the city’s response has been to allow Uber, a politically connected, billion-dollar corporation, to operate based on a ‘promise.’ This is unlike anything I’ve ever seen,” said Cheryl Miller, a Chicago cab driver and Cab Drivers United/AFSCME Council 31 member.
“Every mom and pop restaurant in Chicago is licensed and inspected by the city, their employees are protected with workers’ compensation and the public is protected by requirements to maintain commercial liability insurance. Yet Uber is allowed to evade most forms of oversight that every other business in the city is subject to,” Miller added.
“Driving a cab used to be a pathway to the middle class. I support my family, my children and my community,” said Ismail Onay, Cab Drivers United/AFSCME Council 31 member and longtime Chicago cab driver. “Yet while we pay an incredibly high price to meet the standards the city sets, the city is allowing tens of thousands of nonprofessional drivers to operate the same as a cab with none of the costs and none of the accountability.”
Miller vowed that the union would not rest until the public and drivers are protected. “It’s unbelievable that the city has failed so miserably to act to stand up for its own residents, workers and visitors,” she said.
There was a time when organizing meant knocking on doors, holding meetings at the local house of worship, passing out handbills and posting them on streetlights, and resorting to the old-fashioned telephone tree.
Social media has changed all that, especially for the millennials -- those born between 1982 and 2004. "Promoting, discussing and taking action around issues is part of Millennials' social personality and personal brand," according to a recent study on digital activism. "They seamlessly use social media to tell the world what they stand for."
Organizing -- the process of one-on-one engagement and relationship-building -- is the best strategy for building on that brand of activism. AFSCME sponsors a program that puts college students on the front lines of union-organizing campaigns across the nation.
The AFSCME Union Scholars Program, offered in partnership with the Thurgood Marshall College Fund, is a 10-week summer field placement for rising college juniors and seniors. Participants are placed on a union-organizing campaign, provided with on-site housing and paid a stipend. They also qualify for academic scholarships of up to $6,300 for the 2015-'16 academic year. The program targets students of color, because AFSCME believes it's crucial to cultivate more diversity in the ranks of organizers in the labor movement.
Did you know that the boss cannot question you without your union representative present? It’s your right as a union member! But, you have to ask for one, according to the U.S. Supreme Court.
Forty years ago, on Feb. 19, 1975, in a case called National Labor Relations Board vs. J. Weingarten, the high court ruled that an employee has the right to request union representation in any meeting that she or he feels could result in discipline or termination. The employer must suspend the meeting until a representative arrives or end the meeting all together.
This was a huge victory for workers. The employer is not permitted to reprimand the employee for asking for a representative, and if the employer continues the interview, the employee may refuse to answer any questions until she or he has time to consult privately with their staff representative.
J. Weingarten, Inc. operated a huge chain of convenient store chains, one of which was located in Houston, where Leura Collins worked. In June 1972, Collins, a lunch-counter clerk, was interrogated by her manager for allegedly placing a dollar in the cash register for a box of chicken that cost $2.98. During the interview, Collins, a member of the Retail Clerks Local 455, requested her shop steward or other union representative be present, but was denied.
Although Collins was later cleared of any wrongdoing, her union filed an unfair labor practice to the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB). And a new right for workers was born – Our Weingarten Right!
In 2000, the NLRB under Pres. Bill Clinton extended Weingarten Rights to all workers, unionized and non-union; however, this was reversed in 2004 by the NLRB under ex-Pres.George Bush.
Our rights are born out of the brave acts of individuals and the resolve of the collective.
Happy Birthday, Weingarten Rights and thank you Leura Collins – your bravery changed the labor movement forever.
In three historic votes aimed at strengthening and focusing AFSCME’s fight for public workers’ rights in Wisconsin, delegates from Councils 24, 40 and 48 voted unanimously to form one united council representing workers across the state.
Staff and rank-and-file leaders from each of the councils traveled the state in January, holding town hall-style meetings to present a unification plan to the union’s membership. Members raised questions, proposed changes to the plan, and ultimately determined to unify their resources. The new council will hold its founding convention in April.
The unification allows the union to refocus its mission, strategy and goals on rebuilding a powerful voice for public employees in Wisconsin. In the wake of the passage of Act 10, which stripped collective bargaining rights from public workers, AFSCME saw its membership decline.
“AFSCME Wisconsin will emerge from this unification a bold, determined and united organization that will continue to advocate for our members and build power for all workers,” said Rick Badger, executive director of AFSCME Council 40. “The tools in our toolbox have changed. Now, we will use collective actions to improve the lives of our members, coalition building with like-minded organizations to make a difference in communities, and political action to change the legislative priorities in Wisconsin.”
AFSCME was established in Wisconsin in 1932, and the state is ground zero for the union. The new united council will be AFSCME Council 32, named after the founding year.
“We will come out of this convention an organization that is leaner and meaner,” said Marty Beil, executive director of AFSCME Council 24. “We will be built for growth, more nimble to fight back effectively when challenges arise, and we will arm our leadership and staff with the skills and tools they’ll need to help our members succeed in the state’s current atmosphere.”
Workers forced to repay UI benefits because of mistake
Terri Wells has been driving a school bus since 1998, and she loves her job. The kids are great, plus it’s been a great job for her as a single mom of five children. She beams proudly when talking about her son, a drum major in high school and currently a student at Morehouse College in Atlanta. She still has three kids at home, including twin girls.
“I love the flexibility,” she says. “I don’t have to work holidays or vacations, so for having a family it’s really good.”
But what has always been an ideal job for Terri and her family is turning into a nightmare. That’s because Indiana’s Department of Workforce Development is demanding that she and others repay thousands of dollars in unemployment insurance benefits they received during school breaks dating back to 2011. For Terri, that’s $2,700.
For many years, school bus drivers and head start workers employed by private vendors and companies, and other similarly situated workers were able to apply for unemployment during seasonal layoffs. In 2011, the Indiana Legislature changed the law in effort to close unemployment to these types of workers.
Despite the change in the law, the department continued to pay unemployment benefits to hundreds of bus drivers and Head Start workers. These workers were honest and applied for unemployment insurance in good faith, stating exactly what they did, who they worked for and why they were out of work.
“The Department of Workforce Development knew I was a bus driver for Durham Bus Services. I answered everything on the form honestly. If I wasn’t eligible for unemployment, why did they pay me benefits week after week?” Terri asks.
Terri and her coworkers were joined Feb. 9 by State Senate Democratic Leader Tim Lanane (Anderson), State Sen. Karen Tallian (D-Portage), and State Rep. Gail Riecken (D-Evansville) in calling on the commissioner of the Department of Workforce Development to grant repayment waivers to workers who were paid unemployment due to the department’s error. Lanane and Tallian also have bills that require the department to grant waivers in instances in which it would cause a financial hardship and the department made a mistake.
“I get people’s children, grandchildren, nieces and nephews to school safely every day. I was honest and applied for unemployment in good faith, along with my coworkers. Our only mistake was trusting that the Department of Workforce Development would get things right.”
Hundreds of community activists including educators, parents and union members marched on the New Mexico Capitol in Santa Fe for the "Voices United For Our Students" day of activities. Participants gathered at the Santa Fe Railyard and then marched to the Roundhouse to send a clear message to anti-worker lawmakers.
“How is it, when a state is 49th in children’s wellbeing, that instead of talking about wrap-around services in schools, we’re talking about sanctions and testing?” Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers asked the crowd. “How is it that in a state that is known for music and art, we don’t have music or art in schools?
“This is why I’m here, this is a moral fight, a ground up fight to reclaim the promise of our schools,” she said. “We are at a fork in the road. New Mexico, unlike anywhere else in the nation, is actually pushing the so-called corporate reforms that haven’t worked anywhere they’ve been tried.”
Several bills, including a mandatory flunking bill, funding for increased testing of public school children, and so-called right-to-work legislation, are under consideration by New Mexico legislators and have caused a groundswell of opposition during this legislative session.
“AFSCME is proud to stand alongside our sisters and brothers in the AFT and the NEA, and Equality New Mexico” Connie Derr, executive director of AFSCME Council 18, told the crowd. “Your struggles are our struggles. Our struggles are your struggles.
“We will fight together for better jobs, with fair evaluation systems,” Derr said. “We will fight for workers’ rights, for stronger communities and for a return to respect for those who make the state of New Mexico work.”
Following the rally, activists entered the state Capitol building to lobby legislators and urge them to oppose anti-worker legislation, the failed student testing model being pushed by out-of-state corporations, and a punitive teacher evaluation system that is forcing good teachers out of the profession.
SACRAMENTO, Calif. – More than 1,000 California EMS professionals across 13 counties would see a pay increase and continued health care coverage if a new tentative labor agreement is approved by members of AFSCME Local 4911. The agreement was reached after a two-year stretch where workers rejected attempts by American Medical Response to divide the workforce and cut health care.
"Solidarity opens your eyes and it opens the company's eyes," said Jamie Field, a 23-year EMT from Stanislaus County. "It's about a fair process, protection and safety. It's about coming together."
Field and his wife, who works as a Registered Nurse, devote their lives to providing health care. Together they have three children — one who has autism and special needs. Once ratified, the new agreement would allow employees like Field to continue providing health care for their families.
"As health care professionals, we shouldn't have to fight to keep our health insurance. We should be leading the way," said Field.
Thanks to the solidarity of their union, workers were able to win that fight.
Members of Local 4911 will vote on the agreement in March. Meanwhile, AMR employees in Southern California, New England, Missouri and Arizona are continuing to demand a fair contract from AMR.
Field has a message for EMS professionals struggling to make ends meet: "If you're not in a union you should be. Union means better pay, better health care and more security for the future."
LEXINGTON, Ky. – More than two years after the 120 workers at Lexington Waste Management voted to form a union with AFSCME, they’ve won another battle to maintain their union and settle their first union agreement – no thanks to the management that sought to break up the united group of city employees.
Not content to string along workers and refuse to negotiate in good faith, management pushed hard for another vote from its employees – hoping to decertify the union and avoid a union agreement. But thanks to a strong organizing committee and local union officers, AFSCME Local 4468 members overwhelmingly beat back those efforts, choosing to stay with AFSCME by a 3-to-1 margin.
"When we come together as one, we can accomplish anything,” said Local 4468 Pres. Dion Henry after the successful vote.
The recent victory has now paved the way for a new – and first – negotiated union agreement. The union is putting the final touches on the contract, which includes improved workplace policies, uniform and supply allowances and a new grievance procedure. The membership will then vote to ratify the agreement.
“We have worked long and hard to maintain our strength and unity over the last couple years,” said Henry. “We are fighting to get this agreement done with management and we are proud to be a part of AFSCME.”
JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. – The Missouri Statehouse voted 91-64 on Feb. 12 to move forward with a statewide right-to-work bill. The measure, HB 116, now heads to the Senate, where it will face an uphill battle. Missouri Sen. Gina Walsh, an AFSCME-endorsed retired union member, vowed staunch opposition saying, "I would absolutely fight that bill. It's one of my core values and beliefs. To me, that's a bill that I'm willing to fall on my sword for."
Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon also voiced opposition to right-to-work and is likely to veto a bill should it make it through the Senate. If Nixon were to veto the bill, the House would have to come up with 109 votes or a two-thirds majority to override it.
While the possibility for success for this right-to-work bill is slim in the Senate, what is more likely to garner the votes needed to pass is a so-called “paycheck protection” policy measure that would prevent workers from being able to have their dues deducted directly from their paychecks. Conceding that the broader right-to-work initiative is unlikely to pass, Senate Majority Leader Ron Richard made it clear he would use the “paycheck protection” measure to take aim at public sector workers. “Most of my concern is with public unions,” he said.
Parallel to both these anti-worker initiatives is yet another right-to-work measure. This proponent of this bill, which received initial approval in the Statehouse on Wednesday, bizarrely claims that the measure would address racial discrimination.
As is the case with all right-to-work and “paycheck protection” bills, the motive is about crippling the ability of workers and their unions to fight for livable wages so that private companies can pay their employees less. Six of Missouri’s neighboring states already have right-to-work laws, and instead of trying to compete in a race to the bottom, Missouri legislators should be focused on policies that raise wages, increase overall quality of life and maintain productivity. They should be supporting unions and workers, not attacking them.
“Any so-called right-to-work or ‘paycheck protection’ measure is simply bad policy,” said Jeff Mazur, executive director of AFSCME Council 72. “The measure of a state’s prosperity and competitiveness is not the rate at which it can attract low-paying jobs from companies looking to turn a profit on the back of a cheap labor force, but how it can maintain a high standard of living and productivity. Look at states where there are strong unions, and that is what you will find.”
ALEC Right-to-Work Agenda Smacked Down in Committee
FRANKFORT, Ky. – With working families across the state packing the state Capitol and cheering legislators for standing up to the corporate-backed drive to undermine unions, supporters of the deceptively named right-to-work bill could not muster the votes to pass the legislation out of the House Labor and Industry Committee.
The confusing, controversial legislation would have put more Kentucky money in the pockets of out-of-state millionaires and billionaires while driving down wages in the states. The claim that so-called right-to-work creates jobs is disputed by the facts: Six of the 10 states with the highest unemployment rates have these laws in place. These laws are supported by multinational corporations trying to diminish the power of unions and the middle class.
The anti-worker American Legislative Exchange Council made Kentucky ground zero in the fight for workers' rights by pushing legislation that aims to attack the middle class at the local level, but Kentucky rejected the prospects for fewer and poorer-paying jobs, diminished worker safety and fewer on-the-job protections.
Myra Pugh, a family support and Medicaid eligibility specialist for the state of Kentucky and member of AFSCME Local 2259, was thrilled with the outcome.
"I know firsthand what it's like to work without strong unions,” she said. “I came from the mortgage industry where there is no union and no one to stand up or fight for your rights. Today, we took a stand. AFSCME, state employees, coal miners, teamsters, steelworkers, sanitation engineers, teachers, parents and their children, senior citizens and folks with disabilities, showed state lawmakers and billionaire corporations that our Commonwealth's motto has not changed: United we stand, divided we fall."
CHICAGO – Following the second tragic murder of a Chicago cab driver in a month, Cab Drivers United/AFSCME Council 31 hosted an informational safety training for area cab drivers to help them avoid attacks.
“While millions of Chicago residents and visitors rely on safe and professional taxi services that cab drivers like myself provide, too often we are targets for violent crime,” said Cheryl Miller, a veteran Chicago cab driver and Cab Drivers United/AFSCME Council 31 member.
“We’re attending this training to learn more about the protections and resources that are out there, but it shouldn’t fall all on our shoulders,” Miller added. “The City of Chicago needs to take proactive measures to address violence against cab drivers now.”
Cab Drivers United/AFSCME Council 31 has been advocating for improved safety measures to protect drivers in what the Occupational Health and Safety Administration deemed one of the 10 most dangerous professions.
Solutions proposed include a silent alarm linked to GPS that would inform the authorities that a driver is in trouble, broadcasting their location without alerting the passenger.
Drivers also learned from a workers’ compensation attorney about the protections and rights they have when they are the victim of a crime. Current training provided for incoming drivers does not inform new drivers of these protections should they become a victim.
The state Legislature rejected the same crazy idea in 2011, when Governor Walker first proposed it. So why is he pushing it again? As state Rep. Andy Jorgensen told 27 News when asked for his reaction to Governor Walker’s plan to slash SeniorCare, “What's wrong with him?”
SeniorCare, in existence since 2002, is a program that 85,000 low-income Wisconsin seniors 65 or older take advantage of because it is less expensive than Medicare Part D, a federal program for retirees who don’t get prescription drug benefits through an employer, union or pension fund health plan. Because SeniorCare allows the state to negotiate lower prices with pharmaceutical companies, the drugs are provided to seniors at much lower cost than they would be under Medicare Part D.
“In fact, the state program is about $90 million cheaper annually for federal taxpayers than it would be if the same 85,000 enrollees were all on Medicare Part D,” reports WKOW. “It also has lower co-pays and fewer coverage gaps.”
“A month of coverage under Medicare Part D can cost more than SeniorCare’s annual fee,” says the Journal Sentinel. Governor Walker’s plan would make these seniors enroll in Medicare Part D first. SeniorCare would kick in for prescription drug costs that Medicare did not cover. While the governor says it will save $15 million during the next two years, it also would cost the state the same amount in lost federal matching funds, plus $66 million in program revenue, reports the Wisconsin State Journal.
This is an idea with absolutely no merit, and even less sense. “It’s tragic that Walker’s past bad decisions have created such a self-inflicted wound for Wisconsin. While neighboring states are again making positive investments in their growing economies, Walker’s Wisconsin is mired in painful cuts like these, which not only hurt real people but guarantee that we continue to fall farther behind the pack” says Rick Badger, executive director of AFSCME Council 40.
“Governor Walker’s idea will do more to hurt seniors than help,” added Tom Thornton, president of AFSCME Chapter 7 Retirees. “We need SeniorCare because the high cost of prescription drugs is not affordable on a retiree’s limited income. What Walker really wants is to balance his budget on the backs of retirees. It’s not fair and it’s not even necessary.”
PHOENIX, Ariz. – Megan Lange had only recently returned from maternity leave when she arrived for her shift as an emergency dispatcher with the Phoenix Fire Department on Jan. 27. She was told to take furlough and go home early. No one knew it would be her last day on the job.
Lange was struck and killed by a drunk driver who was headed the wrong way on Interstate 17. She leaves behind her husband, two young sons aged 6 months and 2 years, and a grieving community of AFSCME sisters and brothers.
On Feb. 10, Lange was buried with full Fire Department honors at a funeral attended by more than 2,000 people. Fifteen fire and EMS departments from around the state of Arizona were represented at the service.
As a member of Local 2960, Lange was passionate about the union cause. In her five years with the Fire Department she took on an active role in union efforts and campaigned to protect city workers’ pensions from a harmful ballot measure in last fall’s midterm elections.
“Her untimely death will leave a hole in the dispatch center and in our union,” says Frank Piccioli, president of Local 2960. “But the union has dedicated itself to take care of her family and make sure they are never alone.”
Lange’s husband Patrick is working to finish nursing school while raising his sons, Sean and Miles. The union already raised $50,000 to support the family at this difficult time. If you would like to help please visit this page to make a donation.