November 23, 2014
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AFSCME Retiree Wins City Council Seat

BAXTER, Minn. – As public service workers and union members, we take our civic duties seriously. We vote, we call our elected representatives, and we talk to our neighbors about the issues that affect us. Steve Barrows took that commitment to public service even further this year when he decided to run for office in his hometown of Baxter, Minn. And he won!

Barrows retired three years ago after decades in state social services. But he wasn’t done working to make Baxter a better place. The town of about 7,600 people is growing and evolving.

“There’s an opportunity for forward-thinking and planning to make sure we are a healthy, viable, attractive community,” he says.

The new city council member says his experiences with Local 1574 gave him the skills needed to run for office.

“My background as a union member gave me confidence over the years as I attended conventions and took on leadership roles in the local,” Barrows says. “I got to see how things get organized and look at the bigger picture when considering issues. The relationships you build with your brothers and sisters are the same kinds of relationships you want to build with constituents.”

Barrows is looking forward to bringing his union values to the city council. He believes that positive labor relations will pay off for everyone in the community.

“We know that our city employees work hard and they’re quality people,” he says. “I want to continue that relationship so that the city gets the most bang for its buck.”

He believes the labor movement succeeds when union members are willing to serve in government.

“The first thing is to vote, but it’s also important for people who are so inclined to get out there and run for office,” he says.


Add Walmart Black Friday Protests to Thanksgiving Menu

Martha Sellers probably won’t be able to afford a turkey on Thanksgiving because, as on most days, she is forced to choose between paying the bills and putting food on the table.

On Black Friday, the traditional first shopping day of the holiday season the day after Thanksgiving, John Paul Ashton likely won’t be able to buy discounted clothes for his two young children. That’s because he can barely make rent.

Martha Sellers and John Paul Ashton aren’t unemployed – they both work at Walmart. Their stories aren’t unique.

Hundreds of thousands of Walmart workers struggle to afford basic necessities, even though they have a job. And, like John Paul, far too many Walmart employees are forced to go on government assistance programs like welfare, Medicaid and public housing – not because they are lazy, but because they are denied full-time hours and the opportunity to make enough to support their families.

That’s why, on Black Friday, AFSCME members and thousands of others across the country will join Walmart workers like Martha and John Paul to protest Walmart’s treatment of its employees.

The Waltons – America’s richest family and Walmart heirs – can easily afford to give their 2.2 million employees a substantial raise, but they refuse to pay their employees even a living wage. The Walton family’s greed is driving down retail wages across the nation and costing you billions. American taxpayers are quite literally subsidizing Walmart’s profits.

We have demanded change from Walmart before and have won improvements for employees. This Black Friday, we are stepping up our game. Here’s how you can make a difference:

  1. Attend a Black Friday protest in your neighborhood. There are protests at 2,100 stores nationwide.
  2. When you’re there, post a photo to Facebook or Twitter of yourself like the one President Saunders took. Please use the hashtag #WalmartStrikers so we can build momentum on social media behind these brave workers.
  3. And help spread us the word. Share this graphic on Facebook to let everyone know you stand with Walmart workers.

Your Union Can Help You Pay for College

We know that money can be a big obstacle when it comes to higher education. That’s why AFSCME provides scholarships to help members and their families reach their educational goals. If you or someone in your family is thinking about college, check out our scholarships page to see if you qualify. 

  • The AFSCME Family Scholarship is awarded to 10 graduating high school seniors each year. The $2,000 scholarship may be renewed for up to four years. Students must have a parent or guardian who is an AFSCME member. Apply online by Dec. 31.
  • Current and retired union members, their spouses and dependent children are eligible for the Union Plus Scholarship. These awards range from $500 to $4,000. Apply online by Jan. 31, 2015.
  • The Gerald W. McEntee Scholarship is a one-time award of $5,000 available to AFSCME members. You will need to write a 500-word essay about your commitment to the union’s mission.  Apply online by Jan. 31, 2015.

AFSCME is committed to affordable education options for all families. If you have student debt, please take our brief survey. Your responses can help us to better understand how the cost of college is affecting union households, and how we may be able to help.


AFSCME Applauds Executive Action on Immigration

Noting that that action was necessary “because extremists in Congress have failed to do their jobs,” AFSCME Pres. Lee Saunders issued a statement in support of President Obama’s executive order on immigration.

“They have done nothing to fix our country’s broken immigration system, a system that keeps millions of men and women trapped in a shadow economy that hurts all working families,” Saunders said. 

“President Obama’s executive action curtails abusive employers who exploit undocumented immigrants and in doing so, drives down wages and benefits of all of our country’s workers…. It’s time to put an end to the shameful, pointless suffering caused by [Congress’] inability to devise a comprehensive, legislative solution.”

For more than 75 years, AFSCME has been at the forefront of the fight for social justice. AFSCME members fought for and won dignity and respect in the workplace for public workers and marched with Dr. King in support of Civil Rights, and AFSCME was the first union in the country to strike over equal pay for women.

AFSCME continues that tradition as part of a broad coalition of partner unions, immigrant rights organizations and progressive allies who are coming together to assist immigrant families affected by President Obama’s order.

The coalition has developed a website, www.iAmerica.org, a centralized platform with accessible and credible services and information for immigrant families.


Stay Home, Buffalo – We Got This!

Buffalo, N.Y. – In the freak snap of nature, AFSCME members here found themselves at the epicenter of a weird but real emergency. The city is shut down as some sections are buried under at least five feet of snow, while in other places only two inches cover the ground. Residents were encouraged to stay home, but snowplow drivers and dispatchers who are members of AFSCME Council 35 raced into action.

AFSCME Council 35 Exec. Dir. Bill Travis, who works as a dispatcher, was in the middle of the action, helping residents dig out. His own home is covered in five feet of snow. But the message from him and his fellow public service workers on the job around the clock was clear: Stay home, Buffalo – we got this!

Governor Cuomo declared a state of emergency on Wednesday. “This storm may persist until Friday morning with the potential for another two feet of snow,” Cuomo said in the statement. “New Yorkers in these areas should exercise extreme caution, and stay off the roads until conditions are clearer and safer.”

Meteorologist Steve MacLaughlin of WTAE in Pittsburgh explained, “Lake-effect snow is most common in November and December because the lakes are not frozen and when cold air moves over the lakes, it dumps snow. The combination of unseasonably cold air and the wind moving exactly, perfectly, precisely the entire length of Lake Erie meant the perfect storm.”


Thank you, Sarah


Caregivers work selflessly every day for their loved ones. To show our appreciation during National Family Caregiver and Homecare Provider Appreciation Month, AFSCME members from the United Domestic Workers of America decided to treat them to a surprise!

See what happens!

Watch another video where members surprised Camilla Bradford.


Baltimore City Residents Rally to Protect Water Services

BALTIMORE – Hundreds of city residents joined at City Hall last month to protest a potential city deal to outsource the city’s water to a foreign-owned company, Veolia, with a track record of rate hikes, labor abuses and contract failures.

"Veolia is known globally for two things: rate hikes and labor abuses," said Dr. Lester Spence, associate professor of Political Science and Africana Studies at Johns Hopkins University. "Given Veolia's track record, Baltimore residents should be wary of any potential contract. Such a contract could lead to higher water bills, lower wages and deteriorating service."

Jonathon Epps, a 15-year employee with the Department of Public Works expressed his pride for the work he does to keep the city safe and clean.

“The work I do keeps our community safe, prevents disease and limits the rodent population,” he said. “By coming to work every day, I know I am making a difference in my city. I call on City Council and the mayor to keep our public water public – we do a good job and we are committed to our neighborhoods and our city.”

“Today’s gathering is intended to bring to light the hurt that residents feel all across the city due to policies by this administration and the City Council,” said the Rev. Dr. Al Hathaway, senior pastor at Union Baptist Church.

“We need our elected officials to put the needs of the people first, creating good jobs, permanent affordable housing, quality education, safer neighborhoods and strong public services.”


AFSCME Urges Congress to Restore Needed Funding to Fight the Ebola Crisis

As a U.S. Senate Committee hearing on Ebola began Thursday, AFSCME urged Congress to support President Obama’s emergency request for funding to support the fight against the spread of Ebola in the United States and abroad. 

AFSCME represents workers who are on the front lines of America’s domestic response to Ebola, from the New York City EMT crew that transported an infected physician to Bellevue Hospital, to laboratory technicians at Harborview Medical Center in Seattle, Washington, to state and county public health staff monitoring travelers from West Africa to hospital staff across the nation.

The President’s emergency request would shore up funding to hospitals, which dropped from $515 million to $225 million in the past decade. Restoring this vital funding will ensure that hospitals meet their obligations to patients, providers, other workers and the community, and to help prepare for a future health care crises.

“The budget sequesters and other funding cuts to state and local governments harmed our public health infrastructure and years of cuts meant losses in experienced and trained public health staff,” noted AFSCME Pres. Lee Saunders.

Workers across the nation who are at high risk deserve training and practice on necessary personal protective equipment (PPE).  Americans will be less alarmed when they know workers are being protected from exposure and less likely to become transmitters of disease.

In partnership with AFSCME Local 2507 of District Council 37, the Bureau of Emergency Medical Service of New York City’s Fire Department developed protocols for transporting potential Ebola patients to the hospital. Only specially protected and trained EMS workers will treat and transport suspected Ebola virus patients.

AFSCME also urged Congress and the administration to hold accountable those entities that receive federal taxpayer dollars to address Ebola. Uniform compliance with Centers for Disease Control (CDC) guidelines and existing required worker health and safety procedures are needed to prevent the spread of Ebola and to ensure that taxpayer dollars are used properly.


Historic $15 Minimum Wage Agreement Reached in Oregon

PORTLAND, Ore. – After months of negotiating, AFSCME Local 88 and Multnomah County reached a tentative agreement to increase the minimum wage to $15 an hour in the 2014-2017 contract for county employees.  

The agreement is a major improvement for the county’s lowest-paid public service workers, a number of whom qualify for public assistance. The increase is scheduled to be phased in during three years, with the minimum salary being raised this year to $13 an hour (retroactive to July 1), $14 on July 1, 2015, and $15 on July 1, 2016. 

“Increasing the minimum wage to $15 is a step toward continuing the work of bringing economic security to hardworking families in Oregon,” said Deirdre Mahoney-Clark, the president of Multnomah County Employee’s Union-AFSCME Local 88. “When workers make a decent, living wage they don’t need to rely on government assistance programs to help them and their families survive.”

Despite nationwide support for a higher minimum wage for all workers, the federal government has thus far failed to act on it. Yet local and state governments are taking matters into their own hands. In June of this year, Seattle City Council members voted to increase the minimum wage and this past Election Day, voters in four states and voters in San Francisco did so as well. Supporters of an Oregon statewide minimum wage increase are signing this petition.

In addition to the minimum wage increase, Local 88 members will receive a 2.7 percent cost-of-living-adjustment (COLA) increase, retroactive to July 1 of this year. Their health care plans and cost sharing remain the same for the time being, but there will be a re-opener available starting Jan. 1, 2016, allowing employees to maintain the best level of benefits possible as the Affordable Care Act is implemented.

The tentative agreement is under review by Local 88 members and will be in effect if ratified by members.


Please Take Our Student Loan Debt Survey

A college education is one of the most important investments we can make. Unfortunately, for many it comes with massive student loan debt. And as more students than ever rely on loans to pay for college, they need help.

Do you have student loan debt (either yours or a family member's)? Please take our AFSCME student loan survey now.

It’s not only the students who face these enormous bills. In many cases, parents and even grandparents have to make huge sacrifices—including taking out a second mortgage or selling their homes—to help their children get out from under student loan debt.

Please tell us more about your experiences with student loan debt. We want to hear from you. 


Phoenix Voters Defeat Pension Cut Initiative

Phoenix voters last week emphatically rejected a billionaire-backed ballot initiative that would have replaced city workers’ pensions with risky 401(k) style plans.

Supporters of the measure called Proposition 487 sought to close the existing defined-benefit plan to newly hired workers and force them to shoulder a greater share of the cost of a private investment plan. Voters defeated the measure 56.5 percent to 43.5 percent.

 “Residents, community groups and front-line employees voted no on Prop 487 and sent a clear message to outside interest groups that it is the wrong pension reform, wrong for public safety and wrong for taxpayers,” said Luis Schmidt, president of Local 2384. “Despite efforts from dark money organizations to confuse Phoenix taxpayers and deprive workers of their hard-earned retirement security, voters protected the promise for employees to retiree with dignity.”

“We are thrilled that voters stood with city workers and recognized the harm Prop 487 would do to Phoenix,” said Frank Piccioli, president of Local 2960. “This victory should serve as a warning to those selfish interests who are seeking to undermine the retirement security of public workers across the country.”

Texas hedge fund billionaire and former Enron executive John Arnold played the role of Rich Uncle Pennybags, donating more than $1 million to fund the anti-worker campaign. Arnold is a major contributor to the so-called Liberty Initiative Fund, which poured millions of dollars of dark money into similar measures in Tucson and Cincinnati last year. Both failed to pass.

A broad coalition of pension advocates that included Phoenix firefighters, police officers, AFSCME Locals 2384 and 2960 and their allies came together to fight the measure. They went door to door in the months leading up to Election Day and planned an extensive get-out-the vote effort for Tuesday, Nov. 4.

AFSCME Sec.-Treas. Laura Reyes was in Phoenix on Saturday before Election Day to lead a neighborhood canvass and talk to voters about why Prop 487 was bad for the community.

“The extremists don’t share our belief that after a lifetime of working hard and playing by the rules, we all deserve to live out our years with the dignity and respect that comes from a secure retirement,” Secretary-Treasurer Reyes told a group of volunteer canvassers. “This election is an opportunity for all of us to stand up and say, ‘Today I’m voting for what matters to me and my family.’”


VIDEO: AFSCME home care workers recognized during National Family Caregiver Month

As baby boomers age and the need for long-term care rises, caregiving has become one of the fastest growing occupations in America. And most people – 90 percent of us – indicate that we would rather be cared for at home than a nursing home or facility.

Home care allows seniors and people with disabilities to stay healthy at home and it keeps people out of more costly institutions. And even though in-home caregivers across America save the government billions of dollars every year, they continue to be undervalued and underpaid.

United Domestic Workers of America (UDW/AFSCME Local 3930), made up of 66,000 home care providers across California, is celebrating National Family Caregiver Month this November by launching a new video series called Thank You Caregivers to honor caregivers and share the stories of some of the people who work tirelessly throughout the year to care for seniors and people with disabilities.

People like Camilla Bradford, a Moreno Valley woman who cares for her brother Reggie round-the-clock. Reggie has schizophrenia and developmental disabilities, but since being in Camilla’s care over the past six years, he’s progressed by leaps and bounds. Watch their story here.

“While we acknowledge and give thanks in November, we must support caregivers year-round,” says Doug Moore, UDW executive director and an AFSCME International vice president. “Most caregivers earn poverty-level wages with no sick days, vacation days, or a retirement plan. Some don’t even get Social Security. This has to change.”

In California, UDW is taking action to win improvements for caregivers and clients in the state’s home care program, In-Home Supportive Services (IHSS). This year, UDW successfully won paid overtime for IHSS providers for the first time in history.

We can continue to show our appreciation for caregivers across the nation by raising wages, ending cuts to hours of care for seniors and people with disabilities, and working to ensure paid sick leave for all.

THANK YOU CAREGIVERS! for providing compassionate care to loved ones and neighbors. We can treat every month like home care provider appreciation month by coming together to stand up for caregivers.


Interfaith Group Salutes New York City Municipal Workers for Ebola Case Response

The GNYLRC is an interfaith worker rights and economic justice advocacy organization based in NYC. It seeks to build a working partnership between the faith community and the local labor movement to address issues affecting low-waged and immigrant communities.

It was only a matter of time before New York City, a gateway city for international travelers, would experience a case of Ebola. When Dr. Craig Spencer had to be transported to Bellevue Hospital because of Ebola symptoms, it was a New York City EMT crew that swiftly swung into action and, employing the training that they had received, safely transported Dr. Spencer to the hospital. Once at the hospital, Dr. Spencer was entrusted to the care of the staff of one of the finest public hospitals in the United States. There he remains under treatment as the municipal employees of Bellevue Hospital provide for his care and contain any potential risk of infection. The case of Dr. Spencer is a reminder to all New Yorkers, and citizens across our nation, of the dedication of our municipal workers and what they are able to accomplish when given the professional training they deserve.

At this time when it remains fashionable to denigrate public-sector employees and praise the private sector, all of us need to remember how much we depend on public-sector employees to respond to medical and other emergencies, provide health care for all who need it, provide environmental services, and sustain the work of public agencies that make possible the efficient functioning of our government at every level. Every day we depend on public-sector employees to do the work that makes it possible for our society to function. The private sector could not do what it does were it not for the dedicated men and women of the public-sector work force.

The Greater New York Labor Religion Coalition offers our thanks to the dedicated municipal workers who have handled the first case of Ebola with such skill and care. We ask all of our fellow New Yorkers to acknowledge the work done by municipal-sector employees and to support them as they seek the training, wages and benefits that will allow them to continue to provide the services upon which all of us depend.

The Greater New York Labor Religion Coalition also urges our public officials to speak out more strongly against all forms of discrimination and harassment directed toward those who are responding to the Ebola crisis and to persons from West African nations. We are hearing too many disturbing reports of harassment in schools, boycotts of businesses, community opprobrium directed against health care workers responding to the Ebola case, and general hostility directed toward members of the West African community. Government leaders should join with community and faith leaders to speak out with one voice against all such forms of harassment and discrimination. Government, faith and community leaders should work together to better educate the public about the realities of Ebola and the limited means of its transmission. Together government, community and faith leaders should help dispel fear and build public trust.

Rabbi Michael Feinberg, Executive Director
Barbara Edmonds, Labor Co-Chair
Rev. Mark Hallinan, S.J., Faith Co-Chair


Court Ruling Backs City on Promise to Retirees

Public workers and retirees in Stockton, California, scored a major victory last week when a judge approved the city’s plan to emerge from bankruptcy without making cuts to workers’ pensions. The city’s plan instead focused on a mixture of budget cuts, a sales tax increase and a reduction in payments to its creditors.

The city opposed cuts to its employees’ pensions based on evidence from other municipalities that to do so would encourage public workers to seek jobs elsewhere, depriving Stockton of one of its most important assets – a highly qualified and trained workforce. For example, in nearby San Jose, crime rates jumped after voters cut police officers’ pensions, forcing many to look for better paying jobs in other cities.

Judge Christopher Klein agreed, noting that struggling city workers had already made significant concessions in earlier negotiations, including pay cuts and ending a retiree health care plan that saved the city more than $500 million.

The city’s creditors argued in court that any bankruptcy deal should include cuts to employee pensions in order to free up more cash to pay back their loans. But Judge Klein’s ruling clearly fell on the side of retirees in the debate over where pension benefits should rank when financially strapped cities are forced to choose between people and banks.

It was a victory for all those who believe that after a lifetime of serving their communities, public workers should be able to retire with dignity and economic security.

 


Insourcing Proves Better, Faster – And Less Expensive

Jersey City, N.J.– After a yearlong campaign, AFSCME Local 2262 was able to convince the Jersey City School District that insourcing services is not just cheaper but that AFSCME members do the work better.

This past summer, the school district gave Local 2262 members the opportunity to do major renovation projects. The school district’s superintendent and business administrator were so pleased with the work that they featured AFSCME members during the superintendent's "Tour of the Town" earlier this month, highlighting improvements to the district's facilities, including school libraries, cafeterias, science labs, classrooms and recreational facilities. The superintendent proudly told tour participants – who included school board members, union leaders and parent groups – that many improvements were done in-house by members of Local 2262.

"Outsourcing our members’ work has been a problem for a long time," said Local 2262 Pres. Bill Murawski. "Last year the district hired a new superintendent who was a business administrator with a reputation for privatizing work. We felt that we could not take a wait-and-see approach. We decided to take the issue head-on and go on the offensive."

Local 2262 partnered with Council 52 and the national union to put together an aggressive anti-privatization campaign to bring work back in-house. Local leaders went public with their message and spoke out at school board meetings to talk about the value of the work AFSCME members do, including challenging board members to spend a day with workers on the job.

At every monthly labor-management meeting with the administration for the past year, Local 2262 leaders cited specific examples of how the district would save money by letting our members do work in-house. They also partnered with parent groups and other unions to get the message out about outsourcing.

"We'll do the work and we'll do it well," said Ted Jasiczek, one of the Local 2262 members who worked on the renovation projects during the summer. "We want to do these jobs and we know we can do them better, faster and at a lower cost than an outside contractor."

Plans are currently in the works to have Local 2262 members perform other major renovation projects for the school district this year, projects that were previously done by outside contractors.

"The real credit goes to our members,” Murawski said. “They understood the importance of this fight and when it came time to step up to the plate and do the work, they hit it out of the park.”


AFSCME Members Have Already Made a Difference on Election Day

In the weeks and months leading up to today’s midterm elections, thousands of AFSCME members across the nation volunteered time and effort to make the wheels of our democracy turn once again. We worked the phones, knocked on doors tirelessly and registered new voters. We are making a positive difference in our communities.

Thank you to everyone who participated in get-out-the-vote efforts, but don’t stop now! With just hours to go before the polls close, let’s make sure every progressive vote counts. Tell your friends and family: Vote as if your future depends on it, because it does!

AK GOTV 2014Renee Aguilar, a member of AFSCME Local 16 in Anchorage, Alaska, holding a yard sign about a ballot initiative that would eliminate collective bargaining for city employees. Photo credit: Steve Johnson

AZ GOTV 2014Debbie Osekowsky (left), a member of AFSCME Local 2960 in Phoenix, Arizona, went door knocking to raise awareness about ballot proposition 487. If passed, it would make Phoenix fire fighters and police officers the only public safety personnel in Arizona not to earn a pension or receive death benefits. Photo credit: Kevin Brown

CT GOTV 2014AFSCME Council 4 members rally in New London, Connecticut prior to the gubernatorial debate on October 16, 2014  Photo credit: Michael Bookman

FL GOTV 2014Ricci Yuhico of AFSCME Local 199 in Miami, Florida knocks on doors to get out the vote. Photo credit: Joshua Marburger

MA GOTV 2014Tiger Stockbridge from AFSCME Local 1631 in Boston, MA hits the doors. Photo credit: Kevin Hanes

MN GOTV 2014Melinda Pearson and Mary Falk, of Minnesota State Colleges and Universities Local 4001, door knock union households. Photo credit: Michael Kuchta

PA GOTV 2014AFSCME Retiree Marlene Bryant phone banks in AFSCME Disctrict Council 33 union hall in Philadelphia, PA. Photo credit: Ebony Meeks


We Demand A Shot at the American Dream

The following is an excerpt from AFSCME Pres. Lee Saunders' blog on the Huffington Post. Read the full article here.

It's been a rough four years for the women, men and children living on the margins in this country. Those margins have gotten a lot more pronounced and swallowed up a lot more folks in states run by extremist, right-wing governors.

Perhaps nowhere is this more evident than here in Florida, where Wall Street's heinous financial schemes devastated families from the Panhandle to the Keys, and the housing market that had pumped money through the state like a fire hose collapsed suddenly.

Read more »


Retirees Turn Out for Election Bus Tour

Every bus trip has a schedule to keep and it was no different for the recent “Put the Middle Class First” bus tour sponsored by Americans United for Change (AU). Traveling through 18 states in 18 days, AU’s colorfully wrapped bus told the story of the clear choices voters face in Tuesday’s elections, while serving as a dramatic backdrop for news conferences at every stop.

The issues taking center stage include raising the minimum wage, ensuring equal pay for equal work, making college affordable, investing in infrastructure, and protecting Social Security and Medicare. At many of the stops, AFSCME retirees were among those who came to cheer for the middle-class agenda and share their views at the microphone.

In Hartford, Connecticut, Marilyn and Bill Tyszka came out to urge fellow citizens to elect candidates who support the middle-class agenda.  In Greensboro, North Carolina, Alliance for Retired Americans state president and AFSCME retiree leader Bill Dworkin rallied on behalf of pro-worker candidates.   In Philadelphia, Retiree Chapter 2 Pres. Ed Williams said he supports candidates who will fight to improve Social Security benefits and ensure retirement security for all.

In Orlando, Florida, AFSCME retirees Dolores Gabay and Sarah Jones pointed out how the Republican-led U.S. House of Representatives voted four times for a budget that converts Medicare to vouchers, increases out-of-pocket costs and raises Medicare’s eligibility age, threatening the affordability of health care for seniors.

“Here in Florida, the leaders of our state government have been just as mean-spirited,” Gabay said. “They refused to accept federal funds that would allow more Floridians to qualify for Medicaid. As a result, thousands of early retirees are being denied health care coverage, while people in other states are obtaining affordable care. This could not be more unfair.”

Sarah Jones emphasized the importance of voting.

“Elections matter,” she said. That’s why every American should be paying attention to this one. It’s in our interest to know the candidates who want to represent us and where they stand on the critical issues that affect us all.”


Closing the Deal in the Home Stretch

EAGAN, Minn. – Katie Farber, a retired social worker and AFSCME Retiree Chapter 5 member, has been on a mission since May – to knock on 90 doors a week until Election Day. Like many AFSCME activists across the country, she’s in the home stretch, “ballot chasing,” as she says, to make sure progressive voters who requested ballots return them in time.

That’s what brought her to this neighborhood on a cold, windy and rainy October day, knocking on doors of voters listed as “persuadable” or “drop-offs,” those who traditionally voted in Presidential election years but not in the midterm elections.  She got good news at the first door when she was met by Harold Wachtier, a retiree who nodded and said, “Yes. I sent in my ballot last week.” She thanked him and then was on to the next door.

“The political climate wasn’t very good when I moved in here (neighboring Burnsville, Minnesota), so I got involved to try to change things. I’m working harder now than before I retired,” she laughed. Accompanying her this day was her local state representative, Sandra Masin, and they split up to cover the three blocks. “In a midterm election like this it comes down to who votes and who doesn’t. So we can’t let up.”

That’s the way Lisa Poppe looks at it. She’s a child support officer with AFSCME Local 2438, Council 65, in Waseca, Minnesota. She said she got involved because “you cannot take the freedom to choose your leaders for granted. Your vote may be the one that makes the difference.”

Council 5 is in the third phase of its three-pronged election campaign – first communicating with members, member to member, then contacting members of other unions through the AFL-CIO and, finally, with volunteers reaching out to progressive voters from DFL party lists. If labor can get the progressive base out to vote, we will win.

When every vote counts, you just keep calling, explains Mike Lindholt, a snowplow driver who is president of AFSCME Local 221 and vice president of Council 5. He was at the St. Paul Area AFL-CIO Labor Council phone bank, calling from a list of union members supplied by the central labor council, getting a lot of voice mail messages but not giving up.

“I’ve been at this phone bank six days a week, calling everybody I can,” said Jen Guertin, an employee of the St. Paul water department and member of Local 2508, a mother of eight children who sits on the labor council’s board of directors. “This is so important to me. I want to make sure that I leave a Minnesota that is better for my children,” she said. “That’s what it’s all about.”

Elizabeth Mahle, a patient access specialist with Local 1851, Council 65, in Bemidji, Minnesota, also is looking toward the future. "I didn't become a citizen until I was 29,” she said. “The first time I voted was so exciting and still is now. I see voting as a privilege – we have a voice in our government. One vote can make a difference and I want mine to count.”


In Iowa, Doing the Right Thing

Political activism comes natural for AFSCME members in Iowa, where the first-in-the-nation primary often makes or breaks Presidential candidates dealing with retail politics at the caucus level. In midterm elections union activism is even more critical, and Iowa members are rising to the challenge.

Council 61 volunteers are scattered across the state this year, trying to defeat anti-worker candidates and protect vulnerable supporters. Jean McMaken, one of Council 61’s first “Volunteers of the Week,” has been all over the state door-knocking for different candidates, and making phone calls to members and non-members alike.

“The reception has been good but it takes an extra effort to get people out to vote when there’s no Presidential election,” said McMaken, the vice president of AFSCME Local 96, which represents clerical workers at Iowa State University in Ames. “We have so much at stake, though, trying to elect a senator to replace Tom Harkin, who has done so much for working families here, and also to stop Governor Branstadt from trampling our rights.”

Among the candidates McMaken is stumping for this year is an AFSCME member, Ben Westphal, a longshot for a seat in the Statehouse. “He’s underfunded and doesn’t have name recognition but he’s the best candidate.”

Westphal, who works at the Iowa Veterans Home in rural Marshalltown, admits he has a tough road against an established state representative but says he couldn’t resist. “I just got angry about what is happening in this state, particularly with Governor Branstadt breaking the law.”

What set Westphal off was Branstadt’s sudden shutdown of the Iowa Juvenile Home, which housed and rehabilitated at-risk girls. Branstadt shut the home without the necessary legislative hearings and approvals, prompting Council 61 to sue the governor.

“We’ve won one case before the state Supreme Court that will result in an average of $3,500 in back pay for our members, and we’ll keep calling Branstadt out,” said Council 61 Pres. Danny Homan, also an AFSCME International vice president. “This election is so important to our members, with Branstadt promising to do to Iowa what Scott Walker did to Wisconsin. Right now we’ve got a slim margin in the state Senate stopping him.”

Westphal, whose wife Jennifer also is an AFSCME member working at the Veterans Home, focused his campaign on creating jobs and improving education. “I’ll also be a strong advocate for reopening the Iowa Juvenile Home,” he said.


A New Career Ladder for NYC Welfare Recipients

New York City will no longer require individuals on welfare to work for the city without receiving a paycheck, a practice that was in use by the city’s Human Resources Administration for nearly two decades, doing little to curb the cycle of poverty.

Instead, the city will begin implementing a new Employment Plan whose goal is to help individuals become self-sustaining and leave public assistance for good. The plan, announced last month by City Commissioner Steven Banks, is a victory for thousands of New York City public workers who receive cash assistance and food stamps through the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) because they are not adequately compensated for their work.

“The overhaul of the Work Experience Program and the announcement of the new Employment Plan are milestones in the City of New York’s efforts to break the cycle of poverty and bring lasting employment solutions to many of its struggling residents,” said Lillian Roberts, executive director of AFSCME District Council 37 and an AFSCME International vice president. “With these steps, the Human Resources Administration under Mayor de Blasio comes ever closer to fulfilling its goals of addressing poverty and reducing inequality.”

AFSCME has for years represented many public workers in New York City who started out as welfare recipients making little or no money, even as they labored full-time in the city’s Work Experience Program (WEP). WEP offered a one-size-fits-all approach to individuals while failing to provide them the proper education and training for long-term success.

Under the new Employment Plan, the city’s Human Resources Administration will emphasize education and training in areas where the economy is creating jobs. This will provide welfare recipients a career ladder they can use to climb out of poverty and into the middle class.


AFSCME President Inspires Members to Get Out the Vote in Wisconsin

Madison, Wis. – With so much at stake in the midterm elections, AFSCME members must do all they can to “make sure that people understand the importance of getting out the vote on Nov. 4,” AFSCME Pres. Lee Saunders urged a group of union activists.

“We have the strongest and best activists in our union right here in this state,” Saunders said. “This is our time, this is our place,” he said. “We’re so close. The only way we make it is to work like hell every single day. Take nothing for granted. Leave no stone unturned.”

President Saunders added, “The only way we’re going to engage in battle and win this is to make sure we do all we can to organize and mobilize and educate” the public about the policies that undermined the state’s economy.

Eric Moe, a state firefighter and member of Local 1 (AFSCME Council 24), was among those fired up by President Saunders’ call to arms. Moe has been spreading the word through social media, and is prepared to knock on doors and make phone calls to get people to the polls.

“It’s going to be important for the middle class” to make a change in state policies affecting working families, he said.

Anne Jozwiak, a program assistant at the University of Wisconsin’s School of Nursing, also is getting ready to hit the doors and phone bank to get out the vote. “We have to do everything we can,” said Jozwiak, a member of Local 2412 (AFSCME Council 24).

Dane County (Madison) highway worker Chad Gray also is ready to take up President Saunders’ call to arms. A member of Local 65 (AFSCME Council 40), Gray says people are “starting to wake up to the fact” that current state priorities are “not in the best interest of working families.”

“Keep up the ground game,” Gray urged his fellow AFSCME members. “Phone calls, post cards, face-to-face contact with the people are what’s going to win.”

“We can’t let anybody else do it,” said Marty Beil, executive director of AFSCME Council 24. “We have to do it. You have to do it!”


Wisconsin Activists ‘Do It for Dode’

Darold “Dode” Lowe, a longtime labor activist and Wisconsin AFSCME leader, passed away Thursday after battling an illness. As his friend and fellow union organizer Jason Sidener, director of organizing and political action at AFSCME Wisconsin Council 40, put it, “Dode will be missed by many.”

“There is just so much to say,” Sidener said, reflecting on what Lowe will be remembered for. “He was a real mentor to me and taught me a lot…. He really gave so much of himself to so many people and AFSCME and the Democratic Party. He was always a union man first and a Democrat second.”

Lowe fought on behalf of working families until the very end. A stern critic of Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, he made phone calls to urge voters to turn out for the 2014 midterm elections. Since his passing, fellow Wisconsin political activists adopted the slogan, “Do It for Dode.”

In 2012, he and his wife Gretchen received Council 40’s Political Action Lifetime Achievement Award.

During a long and distinguished career, Lowe served as Council 40 staff representative, vice president of AFSCME Local 284 and president of AFSCME Retirees Subchapter 52. He was also a member of the Dane County Board of Supervisors, served on the Executive Board of the local Democratic Party and was a four-time delegate to the Democratic National Convention.

“He was passionate about politics and working-class issues more than anything,” Sidener said. “He was a true blue progressive. He did not have patience for stupid people, and he had a crotchety streak that everybody loved him for. He could play the cranky old man to a T. He never rested; he volunteered so much of his time to not just unions and politics but to community service.”


Push on in Florida: Vote Early!

MIAMI – AFSCME members joined allies in a rally on Thursday in Miami Gardens to urge fellow Floridians to get to the polls early this election. The rally was held outside the North Dade Regional Library, one of many early voting locations throughout Miami-Dade County.

“Every Floridian has the right to raise their voice through their vote,” said Thomas Bott, a community member who attended the rally. “Early voting is important, and we want to demonstrate to Floridians, especially young people, that if you commit and plan your vote it’s easy, and you can make a difference.”

AFSCME members and our allies in Florida have been amplifying that message, encouraging Florida voters to move their friends and family to action by planning their vote and sharing it on social media using a new dynamic GOTV platform called Plan Your Vote Florida.  

With the gubernatorial race in a dead heat, turnout in counties like Miami-Dade and neighboring Broward will make all the difference. So far, turnout among voters likely to cast their ballots against anti-worker Gov. Rick Scott is higher this year than in 2010, when he was first elected.

“We can keep quiet and nothing will change,” said Melba White, president of AFSCME South Florida Retirees. “Or, we can vote to fund our schools, expand Medicaid, support retirement security and raise the minimum wage. We must vote, and we must tell the people we care about that they must, too.”


Court Rejects Mayor’s Illegal Offer

ALBUQUERQUE – City workers here prevailed in court this month in a case that could have repercussions for public worker bargaining units across the nation.  They were granted an injunction that prevents Mayor Richard Berry from imposing a contract offer that the union never agreed to. 

The mayor’s contract would have stripped city workers of hard-won rights, like promotion benefits and access to a union steward during work hours. But the court ordered the city to mediate with the union.

After 44 years of working in good faith with the members of AFSCME Council 18, the city turned to a more destructive approach.  Mayor Berry acted unilaterally instead of meeting the union in arbitration to resolve negotiations.

"What the mayor was trying to do undermines the entire foundation and integrity of the collective bargaining process,” Steve Griego, former president of Local 624, told city officials at an earlier meeting. “It’s like someone coming to your house and stealing your car, only as they're leaving your driveway, they roll down the window, throw a hundred dollar bill at you, and say, 'we just bought your car.' The problem is, our car was never for sale, and our rights were never for sale.’

The city of Albuquerque’s labor-management relations ordinance does not require that negotiations be settled by independent arbitration during an impasse, but that does not mean the mayor has authority to impose his own contract without reaching an agreement.  Workers hope this case sends a clear message that even in cities without arbitration clauses, officials must play by the rules.


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