September 17, 2014
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Private Prison Operator Sued by Texas Inmate for Allowing Sexual Abuse

Last week, a civil rights lawsuit was filed in a Texas federal court by a former prisoner against Corrections Corporation of America, one of the nation’s largest private, for-profit prison operators, and two of its employees for allegedly allowing the defendant to be sexually assaulted by other inmates at a facility in Bartlett, Texas.

The incident occurred during a sexual hazing ritual in which inmates are routinely forcibly stripped of their clothing by other prisoners and slammed against a protective glass window, exposing the victims’ naked bodies to prison staff on the other side.

According to court documents, CCA and the facility’s warden were aware of the hazing practice, but did nothing to stop it. After the defendant reported the incident, CCA subsequently put him in solitary confinement, which according to the lawsuit, is a common practice by CCA officials in responding to rape survivors’ outcries.

“It’s well known now that these private facilities lack the oversight capacity, training programs and staffing to protect inmates and correctional employees,” stated Lance Lowry, president of AFSCME Local 3807. “With the ever-growing list of scandals and lawsuits, states are now starting to rethink the whole idea of contracting out prison operations to private enterprises.”


Officers Honored for Saving an Inmate’s Life

TOMPKINS, N.Y. – Four corrections officers from the Tompkins County Corrections Facility were honored by the local Kiwanis Club as Officers of the Month.

The quick response and professional actions of Officers James Barrett, Robert Butcher, Mark Miller and John Talcott, members of AFSCME Local 2062, saved the life of an inmate who went into cardiac arrest during his intake. The officers each played a vital role in administering CPR and AED care to resuscitate the inmate and then took him to the hospital.

“These guys did what they do every day – provide exemplary service to our community,” said Matt Haney, president of AFSCME Local 2062. “Their quick response, effective use of their training and commitment to doing a good job saved a man’s life. They should be commended for their bravery and professionalism in a crisis situation.”

“We have corrections officers across the state who walk in jails and prisons never knowing if they will come out alive,” added James Lyman, executive director of AFSCME Council 82. “These dedicated women and men should be honored and recognized. These officers are prime examples of the high level of service our members provide to communities across the state.”


Wisconsin Governor’s Report Card Shows Failing Grade

MADISON, Wis. – Gov. Scott Walker is known for setting records, just not the kind his parents could be proud of.

Between 2011and 2013, the Wisconsin governor cut public school funding by more per student than any other governor in the nation. His cuts totaled $1.6 billion during two years, reducing the revenue limit per student by 5.5 percent, the first time revenue caps were ever decreased.

With these massive cuts, 25 percent of Wisconsin’s schools reported increasing their kindergarten, first-, second- and third-grade class sizes, while 33 percent of schools increased class sizes for children in fourth through sixth grades.

But it doesn’t end there.  Twenty-six percent of school districts cut special education staff, 27 percent of districts cut library and media center staff and 16 percent cut drug and alcohol abuse staff.

We already reported that despite Walker’s promise to create 250,000 new jobs, Wisconsin is dead-last in job creation in the Midwest. Now his disturbing cuts in education. And somehow he managed to find money for a tax deduction of up to $10,000 that benefits millionaires who send their kids to elite private schools.

Watch this video to learn more.


Help For 9/11 Responders and Survivors

Were you a responder or survivor in New York, Washington, DC, or Shanksville, Pennsylvania, after the terrorists struck on Sept. 11, 2001? If so, you may be eligible for free medical monitoring and treatment through a federal program that AFSCME helped create.

The World Trade Center Health Program is open to all workers, including but not limited to emergency health workers, fire or police responders (active or retired)  and others who assisted in the rescue, recovery, clean-up and support following the attacks in those three locations.

In addition, it also provides treatment for those who lived, worked or went to school in the New York City disaster area, or attended daycare or adult daycare, or performed cleanup or maintenance, or were exposed to the dust cloud on that fearful day.

AFSCME DC 37 in New York, working with AFSCME’s Federal Government Affairs Department in Washington, helped develop and lobby Congress for the passage of the James Zadroga 9/11 Health and Compensation Act of 2010.

DC 37 received a federal grant to register responders and survivors for the health program, and created a website to inform members about it.

For information on the World Trade Center Program, go to cdc.gov/wtc or call (888) 982-4748.

Learn more at WTC Health Program, District Council 37 Facebook.


Michigan Lets Aramark Off the Hook

Ignoring a pattern of inappropriate and unsafe handling of prison food, the director of the Michigan Department of Corrections withdrew a $98,000 fine against Aramark, telling Gov. Rick Snyder’s chief of staff, Dennis Muchmore, in an email: “Our corrective action was too harsh.”

The fine was imposed for unauthorized meal substitutions, not preparing sufficient meals for the inmates and employing workers who fraternized with prisoners.

“That’s outrageous,” Nick Ciaramitaro, legislative director for AFSCME Council 25, told the Detroit Free Press. “Things only got worse after the first fine.”

Aramark, the food service outsourcer that operates in a number of corrections facilities, was fined at least three times this year in two states for ongoing violations. These violations included maggots in prison kitchens, short staffing, unauthorized meal substitutions, failing to prepare sufficient meals for inmates, and employing workers who smuggled contraband and engaged in sex acts with prisoners.

Although the fines add up to nearly $400,000 to concerned citizens, the corporation’s ongoing violations were never about the money. The outrage is about the fact that privateers like Aramark will always look out for their own interests and those of their stakeholders before they do what’s in the best interests of taxpayers and the communities where they operate.

After all, Aramark has a three-year, $145-million contract with the state of Michigan alone. The fines levied against it this year represent one fourth of 1 percent of the value of just one of its contracts.

If public officials, including Governor Snyder, wish to do what’s right, they should begin by holding Aramark accountable for its ongoing violations. One way to do that would be to cancel its contract with the state and return public jobs where they belong – in public hands.


Mo’ne’s Coach: ‘I Have the Greatest Job in the World’

PHILADELPHIA – The world was watching Aug. 22 when Mo’ne Davis, a pitcher for the Taney Dragons, became the first girl to pitch a shutout in the 67-year history of the Little League World Series. Although the team would eventually fall short of its ultimate goal of winning the LLWS title, Mo’ne won the hearts of America and became an instant role model for countless young girls around the world.

Little was known about the man behind the superstar, her coach Steve Bandura, a Philadelphia city worker and member of AFSCME Local 2187, who works at the Marian Anderson Recreation Center in South Philly. Bandura began as a volunteer at the local recreation center in 1989, later to leave a marketing job to pursue a career with the Philadelphia Parks & Recreation Department, where he established a baseball, basketball and soccer league for inner-city Philadelphia kids.

“I took a pay cut, but I have the greatest job in the world,” said Bandura. “I look forward to going to work every day because I get to help kids. I am passionate about this – and when you follow your passion, you can make a difference in the lives of others.”

Throughout Philadelphia, members of Local 2187 work with children to develop skills in sports and life. They provide a safe haven to children who might not otherwise have a place to go after school or during the summer. Bandura even put his baseball team on the road to give them more experience.

“We open doors of opportunity. When we give kids opportunity – they excel,” continued Bandura. “Tax dollars are well spent on Recreation Centers. It’s a worthwhile investment, resulting in quality kids with outstanding character.”

Bandura discovered Mo’ne’s athletic abilities in 2008 when he saw her playing football at the recreation center. Mo’ne and her teammates play sports year-round, including soccer and basketball. She and her teammates have competed together for years.


We Remember

“I just had to go after those who would come after me,” recalled one New York City police officer who was digging in the rubble of the World Trade Center with his bare hands in the days after the terrorist attack on our nation. In this video, the frantic search for survivors that evolved into a somber search for victims is recalled by AFSCME-represented officers, paramedics, dispatchers and other public service workers on the anniversary of 9/11.

Video produced in 2011 on the 10th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks.

It was a profoundly emotional few days, and the wounds from that tragic event will haunt our nation for years to come. The workers at Ground Zero recall how they approached their jobs that day, when we all came together in the face of a national tragedy. We will never forget.


Long Lines Lead to Child Care Organizing Opportunity

MILWAUKEE – In the face of anti-union legislation that has left working people reeling from Gov. Scott Walker’s political agenda, family child care providers in Milwaukee and across Wisconsin have fought back and begun organizing with AFSCME/Child Care Providers Together Wisconsin.

The breaking point came when the state forced providers working in Milwaukee County to deliver their timesheets in person downtown at the Milwaukee Early Care Administration (MECA) offices in order to get paid in a timely manner. The result was hours-long lines extending out the building and down the block from the early morning through the afternoon –  time those providers could have used caring for children.

“This was a blatant slap in the face to the providers in Milwaukee,” said Glenda Haynes, a child care provider who was forced to wait in line for hours. “No provider in any other county was forced to do this.”

Those lines, however, resulted in an opportunity for AFSCME/CCPT organizers who visited providers in line to talk union and bring water to ensure none lost their place in line. Soon, activists inside and outside the building created the pressure needed to get a meeting with MECA leaders and the in-person requirement was lifted.

The time-sheet resolution – along with new accreditation courses offered at no cost to AFSCME/CCPT members – has spurred a growth in the local, tripling membership in just two months.

“The word is getting out about the resources and the unity the union can provide,” said Anneliese Sheahan, president of the AFSCME/CCPT local. “For just $25 a month for membership, the union provides so many resources that benefit all providers.”


Secretary-Treasurer Reyes Takes ALS Bucket Splash

Challenged by AFSCME Pres. Lee Saunders, Sec.-Treas. Laura Reyes took the plunge last week, taking a bucket of ice water on her head to benefit ALS research.

“As a union woman and proud AFSCME member, I accept the challenge,” she said. In turn, she challenged “my sisters at the Women’s Leadership Academy,” as well as Kathryn Lybarger of AFSCME Local 3299 in California, an AFSCME International vice president.

Secretary-Treasurer Reyes pledged to make a personal donation, added to the $1,000 already pledged by AFSCME for research to fight the neurodegenerative disease amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS). The “ice bucket challenges” helped raise nearly $100 million for ALS research since the end of July.


Chicago Taxi Drivers Demand Due Process

CHICAGO – Frustrated by an unjust system that denies due process to taxi cab drivers cited for code violations, more than 400 members of Cab Drivers United (CDU)-AFSCME demonstrated this week outside the Chicago Department of Administrative Hearings (DOAH).

For Chicago’s drivers, a hearing date at DOAH is the last step in a process that efficiently and effectively strips drivers of their rights and hard-earned income.

According to a study released by Cab Drivers United-AFSCME in June, drivers pay thousands of dollars each month to lease their cab or finance a medallion, and work 12 hours a day, six or seven days a week. And yet they find their modest income in serious jeopardy over the slightest infraction, regardless of guilt, and typically without the opportunity to present evidence to an impartial judge.

“The system here at 400 West Superior is set up to prevent drivers from ever having our day in court,” said taxi driver and CDU member Maxwell Akenten. “The enormous fines and penalties are used by the city as leverage to pressure us into settling and paying a fine without ever making our case. It’s coercion. We are automatically guilty; there is no due process for taxi drivers.”

CDU drivers already met with Business Affairs and Consumer Protection Commissioner Maria Guerra Lapacek twice to highlight the areas her office can act on immediately to alleviate the impossible position drivers are in.

“We are asking for common-sense solutions to the problem facing taxi drivers,” said taxi driver and CDU member David Adenekan. “These are issues the commissioner could act on today.  She could work to create a fair system where drivers have the same expectation of justice and due process as the rest of Chicago.”


Indiana City Workers Fight Back, Secure Contract

The hard-working members of Local 2487, which represents city workers in Bloomington, Indiana, have a history of working cooperatively with city management for the benefit of both workers and city services. When they negotiated their last contract, which went into effect on Jan. 1, 2014, they had no reason to believe things would be different.

But five months later, on June 1, the city revised its personnel policy, limiting compensatory time and mandating that members use 10 days of compensatory time before using their sick time or paid time off. This change was made unilaterally without negotiating with the local.

AFSCME members knew that if they did not fight back, the integrity of the contract would be seriously eroded. If the city didn’t think it had to bargain with members on this, then they could start to make other policies outside the contract.

Local 2487 Pres. Rick Albright filed a grievance and met with management. But more importantly, he worked with Dave Robertson, his staff representative at AFSCME Indiana-Kentucky Organizing Committee 962, to organize his co-workers. Under the banner “Hands Off Our Contract,” more than 80 members signed up to take action during a City Council meeting on Aug. 21.

Having gotten wind of the members’ plan, the city called the local for a meeting and agreed to back off the changes to the personnel policy.

“They knew we had a lot of help coming, and they got scared,” Albright said. “Because we organized, we were able to move things forward.”

 

 


Quick Action Rescues Phoenix from Flooding

Torrential flooding posed major problems for Phoenix in August, but public service workers rose to the challenge and saved the day.

Dennis Martinez, a fire emergency dispatcher and AFSCME Local 2960 member, reported 18 swift water rescue assignments in just a 12-hour period at their call center. Swift water rescues are very intense and can require up to 15 to 20 fire apparatuses and specially trained technical firefighters.

During a rescue, captured by Fox 10, one of Martinez’s team members remained on the phone with the survivors for more than 45 minutes, providing vital information for a successful rescue. The home moved more than 20-feet from its original address and the flooding forced firefighters to use a helicopter to land on the roof.

“We handled more than 6,000 calls during the hours of the flood, dispatching units to multiple emergency situations,” Martinez said. “Every second is a matter of life and death, we are grateful to have been prepared to play a huge role to ensure the safety of our residents. It was a great combined effort of city employees.”

Arizona is known for its monsoon season, which lasts from June to September and carries a severe threat of mudslides and aggressive flash floods. Improvised evacuations and rescue missions are common during this time period. The desert around Phoenix sees very little rain most of the year, so that in the event of an intense storm the water has nowhere to go.

For city employees at the Union Hills Water Treatment Plant, the first task was to close the intakes before the plant could be contaminated with unsanitary water spilling over the banks of the Skunk Creek Wash.  Their courageous efforts protected the health of many Phoenix residents and the infrastructure of the plant. The intakes remained shut down for nearly 15 minutes to let the mud flow by, safely out of the path of clean drinking water.

“We have a good response team at Union Hills. As soon as we realized the threat of the flooding, we took to the problem and closed off the intakes and relied on the other four water plants to supply clean water to our residents,” said Julian Marquez, AFSCME Local 2384 member and a building maintenance worker.

The Union Hills Water Treatment Plant intakes were reopened and no deaths or major injuries were reported due to the flooding; however, heroic stories of public servants and neighbors banding together to ensure the safety of their communities continue to surface.


Missourians Back $11 an Hour for Home Care Attendants

Missourians from St. Louis to Independence to Joplin called on Gov. Jay Nixon to set the home care attendant minimum wage at $11 an hour. In news events in seven cities and through videos on social media, home care attendants, their consumers, and political and community leaders said poverty wages for such valuable work isn’t right.

The state’s Medicaid-funded Consumer Directed Services (CDS) program enables a better life for 30,000 Missourians who are elderly or with disabilities, and who cannot remain in their own homes and communities without assistance. CDS attendants provide that care and make the program work. Earning an average wage of $8.56 and working spotty hours, attendants themselves cannot make ends meet, leading to a high turnover rate that leaves consumers with uncertainty about their future.

Governor Nixon can raise the program’s minimum wage to $11 with the current state allocation. Home care agencies are given $15.56 for each hour of attendant service. On average nearly half of that is taken up in administrative costs.

The call for a raise was backed by lawmakers and community leaders.

“We all know someone who needs in-home care,’” Missouri Rep. Kevin McManus said. “’You know how important it is that that person is able to remain in their homes and stay connected to communities and to their family. I don’t think it’s too much to ask to give them a wage that provides them with the same level of dignity they provide consumers.’”

The Missouri Home Care Union bargaining team will resume contract negotiations on Sept. 17.


Don’t Want to be Evil? Drop ALEC

If Google wants to adhere to its “Don’t Be Evil” motto, AFSCME and other organizations are urging the Internet giant to stop funding evil and cut ties with ALEC, which pushes bills that advance corporations at the expense of working families.

ALEC brings state legislators together with corporate lobbyists to formulate legislation that busts unions, attacks voting rights and takes other extreme positions.

The coalition joins AFSCME with more than 50 unions and advocacy groups.

One of the groups, Common Cause, filed a complaint with the IRS in 2012 challenging ALEC’s status as a nonprofit charitable organization. The complaint says ALEC serves “as a vehicle for its corporate members to lobby state lawmakers and then deduct the costs of these efforts as charitable contributions.”

In a letter, the coalition reminds Google’s CEO, Larry Page, and other officers that hundreds of thousands of Americans signed petitions during the past year urging Google to cut ties with ALEC “because of their concerns about the harmful role ALEC has played in our democratic process.”

Just last month, Microsoft announced that it will no longer be a member or financial supporter of ALEC. That’s evidence of a growing backlash against the group. More than 90 companies and other members dropped their support for ALEC, including Coca-Cola and Pepsi, Kraft Foods Inc., General Motors and Walgreens. The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation also ceased backing the organizing in 2012.

 


Shhh… Medicare Costs Are Going Down

Contrary to conventional wisdom, Medicare costs aren’t a budget buster. The nonpartisan budget scorekeeper, the Congressional Budget Office (CBO), reported last week that Medicare spending is declining.

In its published report, the CBO looked at actual costs and updated projections.  Thanks to the Affordable Care Act (ACA) and its ongoing changes to the health care system, the United States will spend $9 billion less on Medicare in 2014 alone (that’s billion, with a B). 

Over time, the savings are expected to multiply. The difference between CBO’s current estimate for Medicare’s 2019 budget and the estimate four years ago is approximately $95 billion less.   Paul Krugman nails it by explaining this Medicare Miracle.

To put that figure into perspective, the $95 billion in savings is more than double the amount of funding for Army military and National Guard personnel in fiscal year 2014.

How much are we saving in terms of each Medicare beneficiary?   In 2019, the United States is projected to spend $11,300 in today’s dollars to care for each person on Medicare. That’s down from $12,700 since 2010, the year the ACA became law.

Good news alert:  This means lower costs for beneficiaries, too.

The truth is our nation can afford Medicare – now and in the future.  And that’s a good thing because Medicare works for all Americans.  It affirms our commitment to caring for those who worked a lifetime, earned its coverage and deserve the peace of mind it provides.


From Labor Day to Election Day, 'These People' Are Ready for Action

This Labor Day weekend, millions of Americans will enjoy the final stretch of summer. Most won't think about the 1.6 million hardworking public service workers of AFSCME who are on duty 24/7. But evidence of what we do for our communities will be everywhere.

You will see it on your drive to the beach as you travel roads and bridges built by AFSCME members. You will find it when you head to a barbecue at the park maintained by city workers and kept safe by police officers. It's at the hospital where our nurses and technicians are on the nightshift, ready to assist you in an emergency. As proud public service workers, we make America happen on Labor Day and every day.

But no matter how vital we are to the success of every community, it hasn't stopped anti-union politicians from scapegoating us to advance their extremist ideology. Instead of taking responsibility for their own policy failures, they whip up the animosity of those who don't trust government, as if those of us providing valuable public services are the enemy.

Read the full article here »


Missouri AFSCME Members Aid Ferguson Community

FERGUSON, Mo. – Community members in this St. Louis suburb saw an outpouring of support from labor, faith and other organizations following the shooting death of teenager Michael Brown earlier this month. Among those helping are members of AFSCME Council 72, representing public workers across Missouri and Kansas.

Council 72 members stepped up by providing much-needed diapers, toilet paper, bottles of water and meals for the community and businesses that were shuttered during the protests that followed Brown’s death, said Willie Donald, a steward of Local 2730 (Council 72) who works as a developmental assistant at the Bellefontaine Habilitation Center in St. Louis.

With the school year start date postponed in Ferguson until this week, these donations are making a real difference for families, many of whom receive meal assistance through their schools. AFSCME Council 72 members provided lunches outside of libraries offering educational programming for Ferguson’s children.

“We want to help the businesses so that they’ll open back up and go back to normal,” Donald said. “Everything’s still boarded up. We’re trying to help meet people’s immediate needs. We want to start building everything up into something better.”

AFSCME members also joined with the PICO National Network and other locally based organizations, this past Saturday, to launch a weekly voter registration drive to foster political empowerment and civic engagement in Ferguson.

“Our union stands in solidarity with the entire Ferguson community,” said AFSCME Pres.Lee Saunders. “And we stand with our labor and faith allies to urge a peaceful resolution to this tragic situation.”


A Whopper of a Tax-Avoidance Scheme

Next time you consider chomping into a Burger King Whopper, you might think about the bite this fast food giant is trying to take out of the American taxpayer.

The company announced it will purchase beloved Canadian coffee and donut shop chain Tim Hortons. That purchase could help it dodge its U.S. tax obligations, shifting its burden to the rest of us American taxpayers.

While the prospect of avoiding taxes and raking in higher profits may sound appealing to the company’s top brass, the rest of us know we’ll have to make up the difference, or do with less public service as the tax revenue pool shrinks.

Burger King is pursuing the purchase as a process called a tax inversion. That is, when a U.S.-based firm buys a company in another country, and relocates its corporate headquarters. Even if most of the company’s managers and employees remain in the United States, the firm can take advantage of the other country’s lower tax brackets.

It’s a decision that Walgreens recently mulled but dropped after American taxpayers came together in protest of the move. But since 1983, approximately 75 corporations abandoned America through inversion, and at least 10 more corporate inversions are currently underway.

AFSCME opposes these corporate tax evasion schemes. We are urging members of Congress to enact the “Stop Corporate Inversions Act of 2014” (S.2360), introduced by Sen. Carl Levin (D-Mich.). The measure would prevent U.S. corporations from claiming to be foreign companies unless they meet specified conditions. 

We also support the Bring Jobs Home Act, introduced by Sens. John Walsh (D-Mont.) and Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.). The legislation would eliminate some tax incentives that corporate CEOs use to increase their profits by sending our jobs overseas.

To tell Congress to pass the "Stop Corporate Inversions Act of 2014," send them a message here!


Philadelphia City Workers Reach Tentative Agreement

PHILADELPHIA – After more than five years, AFSCME District Council 33 reached a tentative contract agreement with Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter's administration. Perseverance paid off for the hard-working members of DC 33. If the contract is ratified, they will receive a $2,800 signing bonus and wage increases, among other improvements.

The Nutter administration spent the past five years trying to force the council to accept a contract that would have reduced wages, benefits and working conditions. The mayor even went to the Pennsylvania State Supreme Court to overturn decades of collective bargaining law in order to have the ability to impose the city’s “last best offer.”

But the AFSCME members stayed strong.

“Even as life became increasingly hard for our members, with increased health and welfare costs, frozen wages and threats to their collective bargaining rights, the members of DC 33 did not give up,” said Pete Matthews, president of District Council 33. “Many thought our firm bargaining position would not work, but our members knew they would prevail. I am proud to lead a district council that stood firm and remained strong.”

The lawsuit filed by the Nutter administration would have negatively affected public-sector bargaining rights throughout Pennsylvania. After the state Supreme Court declined to hear the case, Mayor Nutter quickly appealed the decision to a lower court. The case was still active throughout the negotiations. As part of the tentative agreement, the city agreed to drop the lawsuit upon ratification of the contract.

Should DC 33 members ratify the agreement, they will receive a $2,800 signing bonus, increases in health and welfare contributions, and a 3.5-percent wage increase in September and a 2.5-percent increase next July. The mayor froze step increases and longevity pay during negotiations in an attempt to force workers to accept his unreasonable terms. Both will be reinstated immediately upon ratification of the agreement, which would be in force through July 2016.

A major sticking point in contract negotiations was the city’s demand for 15 furlough days, which President Matthews argued were not necessary and the members of DC 33 refused to accept. The Nutter administration was forced to abandon its position and there are no furlough days in this agreement. 

“Our fight for fair wages,  benefits and working conditions did more than just awaken our members, it made the community more aware of the important jobs we do that make Philadelphia work,” Matthews said. “I want to thank the other unions, members of the community and faith leaders who came out in support for the work we do. This not only helped our cause but it also made our city stronger.”

 


Transgender State Employees Win Health Care Coverage

Transgender state employees in Washington state, on July 31, celebrated a vote by the Public Employee Benefits Board (PEBB) that ended discriminatory exclusions in the state’s health care coverage.

“I applaud the decision … to eliminate insurance coverage exclusions targeted strictly at transgender employees,” said Cherilyn Tate, a member of Local 793. “This decision will finally bring the insurance provided by the state for public employees into line with Washington state's non-discrimination law. This is a good solid second step that I am proud to have had the respect and support of my brothers and sisters throughout AFSCME and specifically WFSE Council 28.”

Greg Devereux, executive director of the Washington Federation of State Employees/AFSCME Council 28 and PEBB board member, called the denial of coverage unfair. “No one should be denied health care coverage because of who they are,” he said.

According to the Coalition for Inclusive Healthcare, nearly all insurance plans in Washington state exclude coverage for transition-related medical treatment, even when that same treatment, such as mental health care, cancer screenings or hormone therapy, is covered for non-transgender people.

The board’s unanimous vote means transgender employees will gain access to hormone treatments, mental health care and other nonsurgical treatments as early as Jan.1, 2015. Surgeries will be covered next July.


Missouri Home Care Workers, Clients Build Coalition

Nearly 100 Missouri Home Care Union activists and their clients convened last weekend to plan their push to the finish line for a first contract. Negotiations with the state wrapped up on non-economic issues; now the focus is on winning a decent raise for the home care workers in the state’s Consumer Directed Services program serving Medicaid clients.

The remarkable alliance between clients and attendants was strengthened significantly at the summit. “Your fight is our fight,” client Michael Richards told home care attendants. “We’re all one in this.”

Clients were resolute in linking better wages to better care. Demand for home care is expanding, but poverty-level wages cause high turnover and make recruitment difficult.

“For the work we do, $11 an hour isn’t too much to ask,” attendant and longtime activist Elinor Simmons told the group.

The three-day conference was packed with workshops devoted to mobilizing support for the wage increase. It left participants fired up and prepared.

“I learned how to fight for what’s right,” said Miracle Martin, whose grandmother Juanita Crenshaw is an attendant.

“We know how to speak up for what we want, how to write our political leaders and newspapers,” said attendant Laverne Harrell. “I’m taking a stack of community support cards back home with me, and I’m getting every one of them filled out!”

“We’re building one great, powerful voice,” Richards said, “and Missouri is going to hear from us.”


Bring on the Ice Water!

In case you haven’t already seen it happening on Facebook, people are raising awareness and donations to fight the neurodegenerative disease amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) with the "ALS Ice Bucket Challenge" by getting their friends and family to dump ice water on their heads.

AFSCME Pres. Lee Saunders was challenged by Jon Stocks of the NEA, Danny Homan of Council 61, and Chris Mabe of OCSEA to take the splash for charity.  AFSCME is making a $1,000 donation to the ALS Association in honor of former staffers and family members Sue Wilmouth, Pearl Coleman, and Wayne Fuller. 

Who’s next?  The president has nominated Richard Trumka, president of the AFL-CIO, Paul Moist, president of the Canadian Union of Public Employees, J. David Cox, president of AFGE, and our Secretary-Treasurer, Laura Reyes.  

To find out more about how you can donate, click on www.alsa.org.


Chicago Cab Drivers Push Commissioner to Act

The agency, overseeing the taxi industry in Chicago, held its first-ever town hall meeting for the drivers after more than a thousand AFSCME International Union Convention delegates, Council 31 members and drivers rallied at City Hall.

The drivers had the attention of the city's Department of Business Affairs and Consumer Protection (BACP) and its new commissioner, Maria Guerra Lapacek.

Cab drivers fought back against sweeping City Hall regulations passed two years ago that decimated their rights and income. An AFSCME study released in June found that the changes cost drivers an average $7,500 a year in take-home pay. In just two months, more than 2,000 joined Cab Drivers United.

Much needs to be done to put drivers and their families back on the road to justice, but some changes can be brought about immediately by BACP. At the town hall, a long procession of speakers from Cab Drivers United-AFSCME Council 31 spelled out what the commissioner could do immediately to alleviate some of the hardships they face.

Among the changes the commissioner could implement are lower lease rates, which skyrocketed with the 2012 regulations (while taxi fares remained frozen for nearly a decade), reducing the exorbitant fees charged to credit card fare payments and instituting fair rules.

Confronted by impassioned – and well-informed – testimony from drivers, Commissioner Lapacek acknowledged she could make changes to some of the conditions that undermine drivers. Cab Drivers United will keep up the pressure to make sure that happens.


Community Rallies to Support Sanitation Workers

South Miami, Fla. – A show of support by residents, who joined city workers in a march on City Hall, convinced the South Miami city commissioners to unanimously reject efforts to outsource residential garbage pickups, a major victory for Local 3294.

The day before the vote, city commissioners listened intently to residents who said sanitation workers are like a part of their family, and how they would rather have their taxes raised than to see services suffer through outsourcing. Workers discussed how the contractor, Waste-Pro, would lower labor standards not only for sanitation workers but across the board.

Randolph Brown, a sanitation worker, attended the City Commission’s meeting with his family, teaching his children the value of standing up for themselves and coming together.

“They tried to force Waste-Pro on South Miami. At first, they didn’t want to listen to residents but when they saw our numbers, they went the other way,” he says. “There’s power in numbers.”

“It’s about the people and the quality services they provide,” said 40-year South Miami resident and retired educator Nancy Wilson Young. “Now the commission knows that residents value our sanitation workers and that we’ll be back if they try anything again.”

Although the South Miami outsourcing fight was put to bed, outsourcing threats were revived in North Miami Beach and Hialeah’s sanitation departments.

“Our local and the community we serve have put a stop to outsourcing before and we can do it one more time,” said Janice Coakley, president of North Miami Beach AFSCME Local 3293. “I have faith we’re going to beat it back by standing together.”


#WEmatter and We Demand Change

For too long the needs of women and families have been dismissed by our elected officials, as if women, who make up more than 50 percent of the population, are a special interest group seeking special treatment. It is way past time Congress understood that our issues are not an afterthought but are of critical importance to the economic health and well-being of our nation.

On Tuesday, AFSCME is participating in the Women's Equality Day #WEmatter campaign, a nationwide day of action to tell lawmakers that women -- and the issues we care about -- matter. We are putting them on notice. They can no longer abdicate their responsibility to govern on behalf of all of us and not face the consequences.

When 42 million women and 28 million children live in poverty, it's time for Congress to hear #WEmatter.

When, 51 years after the Equal Pay Act was signed into law, women still earn 77 cents for every dollar a man earns for the same job, it's time for Congress to hear #WEmatter.

When women earning the minimum wage can work full time and still live in poverty, it's time for Congress to hear #WEmatter.

Read the full article here »


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