October 25, 2014
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Florida Retirees Make a Big Difference in Upcoming Election

MIAMI -- With so much on the line in this year’s midterm elections – from retirement security to voting rights -- AFSCME retirees in Miami-Dade County made more than 100,000 calls to Floridians in recent weeks, encouraging them to vote on or before Nov. 4.

One of the retirees turning people out to the polls is Melba White, a former procurement specialist for Jackson Memorial Hospital who retired three years ago. Rather than just relax, White seized the opportunity to devote herself more fully to civic engagement and become active with AFSCME Retirees Subchapter 45.  

“I stay active in local politics and I'm participating in this election because we need big changes in Florida,” White said. “Our current governor is not for all people, he's for special interest groups and the rich. It’s been on his watch that so many working families have been hurt. I’m a grandmother and a great-grandmother, I care deeply about making our communities better for future generations.”

White is enjoying staying active in her retirement.

“Now I have the time to go to more meetings, play close attention to how decisions get made and talk with more voters about making smart decisions,” White said.

She has a clear mission for the next two weeks, as early voting is now under way in Florida and Election Day looms on Nov. 4: Get people out to vote.

“Sometimes all it takes is one genuine conversation that makes the difference in getting someone to the polls,” White said. “And that’s a really good feeling to know you’ve made a difference.”

Learn more about what inspirational retirees are doing across the country by visiting http://www.afscme.org/union/retirees.


Fighting Back in Ohio

Mansfield, Ohio, a town of 47,000 between Cleveland and Columbus, is the epicenter of Ohio’s midterm election campaign, where the war on public service workers perhaps is felt most personally. Every public employee here has felt the attacks on public services and budget cutbacks during the past four years.

Ohio Civil Service Employees Association (OCSEA) represents many of the workers there, from the corrections officers at the two local prisons to employees of the Department of Transportation, EPA and other state offices.

Ohio Association of Public School Employees (OAPSE) represents many of the school employees.

Council 8 also represents city workers. The Mansfield office is one of eight around Ohio where get-out-the-vote programs are in full swing.

In Mansfield, as elsewhere, the volunteers are driven to protect public services and their rights – thousands of jobs were lost and many more are threatened by cuts or privatization attempts.

“I worked at the Unemployment Department for 27 years, and they kept cutting and cutting,” said Joan Schonhardt, who retired three years ago and worries how she will make ends meet every day on a small pension and Social Security benefits that are diminished by Ohio regulations.

“They’ve been trying to privatize Ohio’s prison system for four years,” said Melvin Girtman, a corrections officer at the Mansfield Correctional Institution who was assembling folders of information for volunteers to distribute during their door-knocking efforts. “It’s food service, then it’s other services, they’re picking the prison system apart, really, selling it out to the highest bidder. And what they’re really after is to weaken the union, picking us off one section at a time.”

Girtman and Schonhardt were two of several volunteers who showed up on a gray October Wednesday to knock on doors and make phone calls on behalf of candidates willing to fight for working families. Many fear that Ohio will follow the mold of Michigan and Indiana right-to-work ruin.

“That’s what I fear the most,” said Emmagean Smith, another corrections officer at the Mansfield prison who signed up for the volunteer work. “I worry that right-to-work would mean a cut in our wages. It means I could lose my seniority. I’ve worked at ManCI for 21 years, and I don’t want to lose what I’ve worked so hard to earn.” 

Later that day, Smith door knocked with fellow Mansfield CO Debbie Davis and her daughter, an eighth-grader, at union members’ homes in nearby Mt. Vernon. Her daughter insisted on coming along, Davis said. “She knows how important this election is. It’s her future, you know.” 

So far, the AFSCME Ohio get-out-the-vote campaign made 350,000 phone calls to union members and knocked on 30,000 doors. That’s just the beginning, said OCSEA’s Jim Beverly, who runs the Mansfield office. “We’ve got nearly two weeks to go,” he said. “We’re not letting up.”

Two years ago, Ohio’s unions and supporters were able to gather 1.3 million signatures for a ballot initiative and rally overwhelming support to repeal a state law to eliminate collective bargaining for public workers, SB5. AFSCME activists wear buttons that say, “This Is the November We Remember.” They’re fighting back.


Missouri Home Care Workers Win Raise

After months of collecting signatures, rallying in cities across the state and meeting with local officials, Missouri home care providers and the people they care for were able to celebrate a big victory last week – a first contract!

The Missouri Home Care Union, an AFSCME/SEIU partnership, reached an agreement with the state that will raise hourly wages up to $10.15, guarantee premium pay on holidays, and make the home health care system more transparent and responsive.

Their hard work paid off big time for the home care workers, many of whom were making minimum wage or barely above it.  Their pay is among the lowest in the nation. It’s not enough to pay the bills, and it certainly doesn’t reflect the value of the work they do caring for seniors and people with disabilities.

That’s why Michael Richards of Moberly, along with his caregiver Karen Harlan, traveled to St. Louis last week to deliver more than 400 petition signatures to Gov. Jay Nixon.  Richards says he wouldn’t be able to leave the house without the help of Harlan, but the current system doesn’t value what she does.

“I got into the home health care system and it completely changed my life,” he says. “These workers are out working nine, 10, 11 hours a day and then they go home and live on food stamps at the poverty level.  People like them keep people like me alive and well and they deserve more than that.”

Sarah Auxier and her son Kyle, from St. James, also have been active in the union.  Kyle has muscular dystrophy, and Sarah works around the clock to care for him.  But she can’t support herself on the income she gets as a home care attendant, so Kyle has to hire someone else while Sarah works a second job. 

“His other attendant has four jobs and is barely making ends meet,” Auxier says. “It was so embarrassing to say to her, you have this huge responsibility, Kyle relies on you for everything, and you’re only worth $7.75 an hour.”

The contract is a big first step, and it will make life a little easier for Missourians like Richards and Auxier.  When home care workers and consumers work side by side to advocate for change, they can raise the standards for everybody. 


Leading the Way to Vote Early in Atlanta

ATLANTA – AFSCME Local 1644 members who work for Atlanta Public Schools and the City of Atlanta are encouraging their co-workers to vote early this election season. Last week they joined local teachers in voting early at South DeKalb Mall to launch early voting across the state. 

Although every election is important, close U.S. Senate and gubernatorial races have caused increased interest in this midterm election.

“My co-workers and I are voting early because on Election Day we’re going to help other people get to the polls,” said Local 1644 member Tracey Thornhill. “There are some big races happening and we can’t let any excuses stand in our way.”

“We’ll be driving folks to the polls and helping them make educated decisions,” she said. “Just like every election, we all need to stand up for ourselves and all working families.”

Thirty-three states and the District of Columbia offer early voting, increasing access to the democratic process. Click here to find out more about what options you have available in your state.

The benefits of early voting include greater participation by traditionally disenfranchised voters and reduced stress on the voting system on Election Day.

 


Trayvon Martin’s Mother Urges Florida Women to Go Vote

With Election Day just two weeks away and early voting already under way, more than 14,000 Florida women came together for a teletown hall Wednesday night to talk about the importance of getting out to vote.

The mother of slain teenager Trayvon Martin, Sybrina Fulton, encouraged women on the call to get out and vote. Traditionally, midterm elections see lower voter turnout than presidential elections. In 2010, only 41 percent of the electorate turned out to the polls.

“Our voices need to be heard,” Fulton said. “We need to be sure we’re helping other people get to the polls. That we’re supporting early voting.” She added, “We just have to be very vigilant and very aggressive.”

Fulton encouraged Floridians to make a plan to vote. If you’re in Florida, you can take a second now to make your plan to vote.

Eighty-one percent of the women on the call Wednesday night said they’ve already voted early or planned to vote early. The call also offered women the opportunity to sign up to volunteer in getting out the vote across the Sunshine State

Faced with mounting attacks on everything from jobs and a minimum wage to expanding Medicaid, from retirement security to the right to vote, Florida women and all Florida voters are faced with a choice at the polls. Issues like improving public education and health care, preventing gun violence, and making higher education more affordable, are on the table this election.

“Each of us must decide what part we will play in this moment,” AFSCME Pres. Jeanette Wynn said. “Will we let the anti-worker, anti-union, anti-poor, anti-people forces continue to accumulate more power and influence over our political system and even more of our nation’s wealth? Or will we stand together and raise our collective voices in support of the values we hold dear?”

Joining Fulton and Wynn on the call were Monica Russo, president, SEIU Florida State Council, and Marίa Rodriguez, Executive Director of the Florida Immigrant Coalition.

“It’s critical for us as women as leaders in our households, communities churches to make our vote plan and help our friends and our neighbors make their vote plan,” Russo said. “In 2010, our communities did not vote. Our vote really matters.” 


They Want Us to Stay Home on Nov. 4

In recent weeks, a series of court rulings blocked implementation of discriminatory voter identification laws in Wisconsin, Arkansas and Texas. But on Saturday, the U.S. Supreme Court reversed a lower court and allowed Texas to move ahead in what U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder called "a major step backward to let stand a law...designed to discriminate."

Please read my latest entry on the Huffington Post here.


AFSCME Stands with Wal-Mart Workers Who Demand a Living Wage

With $473 billion in worldwide sales just last year, you would think that Wal-Mart could pony up a living wage to its employees. But its 1.3 million employees in the United States are scraping by on poverty wages with no benefits and irregular hours, even as the six members of the Walton family are worth $145 billion from Wal-Mart profits. 

That’s why Wal-Mart workers and their allies, including AFSCME, marched to the offices of the Walton Family Foundation in New York City and Washington, D.C., Oct. 16. They had a simple request for the Walton family: $15 an hour and full-time hours.

“We must send the message that we refuse to live in a low-wage part-time economy driven by the Waltons’ profits,” D.C. Congresswoman Eleanor Holmes Norton told the crowd.

Marchers shut down traffic in front of the offices, but the foundation refused to meet and hear their demands. The Walton Family Foundation is an organization established to create the appearance that the Wal-Mart founders are charitable with their wealth. But Forbes magazine describes the charity as a form of tax dodge. It spends most of its money on education “reform” designed to replace our schools and teachers with corporate charters.

Wal-Mart’s wealthy bosses could do a whole lot more if they chose to share the company’s profits with the people who work to make it happen. Those workers desperately need a living wage and stable schedules that allow them to spend time with their families. 

Unfortunately, Wal-Mart’s inhumane employment practices set the pattern for other employers. That’s why unions are working to change Wal-Mart, to help working families.


Stopping A ‘Wisconsin Moment’ in Connecticut

“How ya’ll doing?” AFSCME President Lee Saunders asked as he  walked into the Bridgeport, Conn., water treatment plant garage where workers were coming in on a shift change.

Saunders was there to talk to members about “the most important election in your lifetime.” Earlier, at the other end of the city, he met with four groups of lunching state social service case workers and clericals from Council 4 bargaining units totaling more than 1,100 members, discussing the danger to their jobs and bargaining rights if they allowed a rich extremist to deliver on his promise to bring a “Wisconsin moment” to Connecticut.

“You know what a ‘Wisconsin Moment’ means?” he asked a group of West Haven, Conn., municipal and board of education workers later that day. “It means we are stripped of our voice and our rights. That’s what [Republican gubernatorial candidate] Tom Foley wants to deliver here in Connecticut.” Foley is running against incumbent Dan Malloy. Nodding in agreement was West Haven Mayor Ed O’Brien, the son of a former West Haven police officer and member of AFSCME Council 15, who was on hand to thank the municipal employees and their union for working with him to reach a fair collective bargaining agreement.

It was the public safety officers of AFSCME Council 15 and their affiliate, AFSCME Local 724, who sponsored the raucous rally in New London the day before. Surrounded by labor leaders, Mayor Daryl Justin Finizio of New London declared that his city was a “union town,” a fact on display all along a downtown intersection – signs from AFSCME, the UAW, Fire Fighters, Iron Workers, Carpenters, SEIU, the Teamsters, American Federation of Teachers and the Amalgamated Transit Union, among others.

Saunders looked out upon the horde of labor supporters and declared, “The rights we have didn’t fall from the sky. We got them because we fought for them! And we have to fight to keep them.”

At every stop, Saunders reminded workers that they have the power. This election is in our hands. If we turn out the vote of people who share our values, who want to preserve the middle class, who care about quality public services, then we will win. “Bad things happen when good people stay away from the polls,” he said.

At the water treatment plant in Bridgeport, where the workers had struggled for several years to finally win a good contract with an English company trying to maximize its profit at the city’s water waste treatment facility, Saunders was blunt.

“Whether we keep our rights and our jobs comes down to whether we have political leaders who care about us and our jobs,” he said. “We know that with Tom Foley, we may be cut out entirely – just like we were in Wisconsin. We can’t afford to allow that to happen in Connecticut. We have to talk to our friends, our families, people we know care about working families. Those one-on-one conversations will make the difference.”

The next day, Saunders helped kick off a “Labor Walk” at the Teachers’ union hall in Meriden, Conn. , sponsored by the AFL-CIO. Then, after the whirlwind tour to rally the troops in Connecticut, Saunders was off to Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, Michigan, Florida and other states where labor may tip the balance. Three weeks to go, so much work to do. As he told Council 4 members at every stop, “We’ve got to be prepared to work this election as if the future truly depends on it. Because, sisters and brothers, it does.”


President Saunders Honored as “Progressive Champion”

Accepting the Campaign for America’s Future’s Progressive Champion Award, AFSCME Pres. Lee Saunders promised that our union will “fight like hell every single day” for working families, and to get out the vote on Nov. 4 to prevent a “nightmare” if anti-worker candidates prevail at the polls.

It’s up to unions and progressive organizations like the Campaign for America’s Future to “knock on those doors, make those phone calls, convince folks that it’s important to have their voices heard on Nov. 4,” Saunders said. “Governors across the country are trying to steal our voices, take collective bargaining away from public sector workers. Our members are energized and they’re fighting back.”

President Saunders accepted the award on behalf of AFSCME’s 1.6 million members, “because they’re the everyday heroes who really work behind the scenes to keep public services running.”

Lily Eskelsen García, the newly elected president of the National Education Association (NEA), presented the award to President Saunders, noting that both the NEA and AFSCME represent millions of hard-working Americans who contribute to the national economy.

“We stand between a profiteer and his profits,” she said. “It’s a dangerous place to stand. I have seen Lee stand there with courage and conviction.”

Also honored with Progressive Champion Awards were New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio andSaru Jayaraman, co-founder and co-director of Restaurant Opportunities Centers United.

In his acceptance remarks, Mayor de Blasio said that he and other progressive leaders like President Saunders and Jayaraman “put forward a vision of what progressive change looked like” that is now spreading nationwide. “I’ve seen mayors, in particular, all of this country moving on paid sick leave, moving on higher wages and benefits, moving on early childhood education” because “we have to respond to people suffering.”

Watch President Saunders deliver his acceptance speech here.


Walker: Minimum Wage Serves No Purpose

MADISON, Wis. – After avoiding the question in his first debate with Wisconsin gubernatorial candidate Mary Burke, Gov. Scott Walker finally offered an answer during a live broadcast of his sit-down with the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.

“What is your position on the minimum wage?” asked columnist Dan Bice. “Should we have it?”

“Well, I’m not going to repeal it, but I don’t think it serves a purpose,” Walker responded.

While the facts paint a clear picture that raising the minimum wage would boost earnings for 16 million people and bring 900,000 Americans out of poverty, Walker once again stands against middle-class values and on the wrong side of history.

According to a poll conducted by the Marquette University Law School, 59 percent of Wisconsinites support increasing the minimum wage.

Walker’s latest flub comes only days after his first debate with challenger Mary Burke during which, when asked about Wisconsin’s lack of job growth compared to the rest of the Midwest, Walker responded that the state “doesn’t have a jobs problem, we have a work problem.”

Agree to disagree, Governor.  You might think sitting last in the Midwest for job growth is acceptable, but to the people of Wisconsin, last in the Midwest and 35th in the nation isn’t cutting it.


Court Backs Voting Rights in Wisconsin

The U.S. Supreme Court, in a case involving Gov. Scott Walker’s 2011 voter suppression law, slapped down efforts by lawmakers to limit who can vote. 

Governor Walker’s 2011 law was designed to ensure his own re-election, and the election of other anti-worker candidates by restricting the turnout of groups of voters less likely to vote for them, especially minorities and young people, who cannot provide certain types of identification.

A congressional study of voter ID laws, issued last week, compared voter ID laws in Kansas and Tennessee to four states that lacked those restrictions and concluded that such laws reduced voter turnout by as much as 3 percent. 

“GAO’s analysis suggests that the turnout decreases in Kansas and Tennessee beyond decreases in the comparison states were attributable to changes in those two states’ voter ID requirements,” the report said.

Extremist lawmakers like Governor Walker argue that such laws are aimed at preventing voter fraud, but there is little evidence of voter fraud in Wisconsin or nationwide. U.S. District Judge Lynn Adelman concluded this April that “virtually no voter impersonation occurs in Wisconsin. The defendants could not point to a single instance of known voter impersonation occurring in Wisconsin at any time in the recent past,” or was likely to “become a problem at any time in the foreseeable future.”

Judge Adelman ruled at that time that Governor Walker’s voting restrictions violated both the equal-protection clause of the Constitution and the Voting Rights Act. The 6-3 decision of the U.S. Supreme Court upheld Adelman’s ruling, effectively blocking the law.

The Wisconsin ruling came on the same day that a federal judge in Texas struck down that state’s restrictive voter ID law as unconstitutional. U.S. District Court Judge Nelva Gonzales-Ramos wrote that those legislators who pushed the law “were motivated, at the very least in part, because of and not merely in spite of the voter ID law’s detrimental effects on the African-American and Hispanic electorate.”

Unfortunately, a federal appeals court reinstated the Texas voter-ID law for the November election. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the 5th Circuit did not rule on the law’s merits, so there is still hope that, eventually, it will be overturned as the case moves up the legal ladder.


Unions Make Sense for New Orleans Tourism Industry

NEW ORLEANS – In a historic win for New Orleans hospitality workers, 900 Harrah’s Hotel and Casino employees are now in contract negotiations after winning the right to organize with UNITE HERE and the Teamsters through successful card-check campaigns.

It was also a win for union conventioneers, since previously the only other unionized hotel in New Orleans was the Loews Hotel. The addition of Harrah’s workers doubled the city’s hospitality industry union membership. Still, there are more than 70,000 New Orleanians employed in the industry.  

In 2013, more than 9 million visitors came to New Orleans, spending $6 billion in the process. With the addition of a new unionized hotel, revenues are likely to increase with additional union functions, AFSCME Pres. Lee Saunders pointed out in a letter this summer to the president of Hilton International, whose Riverside property in New Orleans is being organized by UNITE HERE.

Much like New Orleans Cab Drivers for Justice AFSCME Local 234, these newly unionized hospitality workers hope to create a stronger tourism industry and also better their working conditions.

“Just like us cab drivers, hotel and food service workers help keep New Orleans’ tourism industry up and running,” said Delores Montgomery, president of AFSCME Local 234. “Having a union will enable them to fight back against mistreatment and abuse. More and more workers in the tourism industry are joining unions and when we stand together, we’re going to be unstoppable!”

Unlike other U.S. cities with large tourism revenues – such as Chicago, New York and Las Vegas – New Orleans’ union membership in the hospitality industry remains low. The industry stands to benefit if hotel owners respect their employees’ efforts to unionize. 


Lillian Roberts to Retire as DC 37 Executive Director

District Council 37 Executive Director Lillian Roberts announced last week she will retire at the end of the year as leader of New York City’s largest public employee union, but plans to continue her storied 60-year-career fighting for workers’ rights as an AFSCME International Vice President.

Roberts, who has served as executive director of DC 37 for 13 years, said in a letter to AFSCME’s Executive Board that she will step down on Dec. 31. The board accepted her recommendation to appoint DC 37 Assoc. Dir. Henry Garrido as executive director of DC 37, also effective December 31.

The board also offered its congratulations for Roberts’ proud history of leadership and dedication to the union and its members.

AFSCME Pres. Lee Saunders praised Roberts’ career at AFSCME’s International Convention in Chicago this summer, where he presented the legendary labor leader with the AFSCME Lifetime Achievement Award. In a statement last week, he said:

“I’ve seen firsthand her dedication to members and determination to make sure DC 37 unapologetically represents their interests and perspectives. Sometimes, this meant going up against mayors or other politicians who didn’t respect workers. Other times, it meant creating education programs to assist members in advancing on their jobs. And always, she’s done everything she could to help the women and men of AFSCME find and confidently use – their voices.”

In her letter to the board, Roberts wrote, “It has been a great pleasure to serve the members of DC 37 and to have had the opportunity to lead this Council through some of our most turbulent times in history. Although I am leaving the office of Executive Director, I will hold all of you and the members in my heart. I will always treasure those moments I spent working directly with members. I will always be passionate about this Council, the Executive Board, our members, and, of course, our International Union, AFSCME.”

Roberts also serves as vice president of the New York State AFL-CIO, vice president of the New York City Central Labor Council, and as co-chair of the Municipal Labor Committee. In 2010 she was named one of the 25 most influential black women in business by the Network Journal in 2010.

Growing up in Chicago’s South Side, Roberts became a nurse’s aide. In 1959, she became a shop steward and officer of AFSCME’s District Council 34, and later served as a staff rep for Chicago’s Council 19, where she spearheaded the creation of five locals and led an organizing drive for workers in the city’s four mental hospitals. Moving to New York in 1965, Roberts led the union’s campaign to organize thousands of city hospital workers in 1966.

In her comments to AFSCME Convention delegates upon receiving the AFSCME Lifetime Achievement Award, Roberts observed that, after joining DC 37, “all I cared about was the dignity of work, and I knew that I needed a union so I wouldn’t have to kiss somebody’s behind.” That, she added, “is why we have a union. It’s the only force that you have that gives you the dignity. This union is the greatest in the world. It’s your mouthpiece for justice.”

Click here to hear her convention remarks. Roberts recounted her experiences in the labor movement to National Public Radio’s News & Notes program in 2007. Listen to it here. Read more about Roberts here.


Saunders to CUPE: ‘Your Fights Are Our Fights’

Donning the T-shirt of our sister union, the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE), AFSCME Pres. Lee Saunders this week declared that solidarity between our two unions is critical to win victories against the “anti-worker, anti-union forces” aligned against workers in both nations.

“Your fights are our fights, and our fights are your fights,” President Saunders said in a rousing address at CUPE’s National Sector Council Conference in Toronto on Oct. 7. “Together in solidarity, we will win!”

At AFSCME’s 41st International Convention this summer in Chicago, CUPE Pres. Paul Moist addressed our delegates, declaring his union’s support for AFSCME Michigan Council 25 in its fight against the privatization of water services.  “I’m going to Detroit!” he said, donning an AFSCME T-shirt. “I’m an AFSCME member! We’re going to stand with the workers of Detroit!”

Later, the two union leaders marched with their members over the Ambassador Bridge that connects Detroit and Canada in a demonstration of solidarity. At CUPE’s conference this week, President Saunders noted that it will take that kind of solidarity to defeat corporate-backed interests that want to undermine workers’ rights in both countries.

“Sisters and brothers,” he said, “this is the time we stand up together and say, ‘No more!’ This is the time we say, ‘Things must change!’ This is the time we come together as the labor movement, join hands across our borders and force that change to come.”


Raise a Storm for 10.10 Minimum Wage

Question: Besides Friday’s date, what does “10/10” refer to?

Answer: One day soon, if we keep up the fight and take action, it will refer to the new and improved federal minimum wage.

The Democratic Caucus in the House of Representatives designated Oct. 10 as National Minimum Wage Day. Advocates of raising the wage, including AFSCME, are calling on Congress to pass the Minimum Wage Fairness Act this year to give 3.5 million workers a raise.

The federal minimum wage is $7.25 an hour and was last raised in 2009. Adjusted for inflation, the minimum wage had more purchasing power in 1968 than at any other time.

Earlier this week, the Leadership Conference on Education Fund and the Georgetown Center on Poverty and Inequality issued a report declaring that increasing the wage is a civil rights issue. They made the connection because ending economic equality has always been “a fundamental goal” of the civil rights movement.

Think it’s past time to raise the wage? Take action! You can also join Friday’s Twitter Storm from 10:10 a.m. until 11:10 a.m., Eastern Daylight Time, hashtag #RaiseTheWage.


Ohio Pickets Target Prison Staffing, Safety

Chanting "safe prisons now" and "no more cuts," members of Ohio Civil Service Employees Association (OCSEA)/AFSCME Local 11 took to the streets Oct. 6 to shed light on the dangers of understaffing and outsourcing, including security breaches, maggots found in food preparation areas operated by a contractor, and even prison escapes.

The employees of the Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction (DR&C), represented by OCSEA, picketed outside the department’s Columbus office to deliver a message: Inadequate staffing and outsourcing to a for-profit food vendor, Aramark, placed workers and the community at risk. Despite having a record number of inmates – more than 50,600 in a system built for 38,579 – the DR&C in recent years shed 400 corrections officer posts, ordered the closure of housing units, and contracted with food service vendor Aramark, whose practices led to maggot infestations, OCSEA officials said.

In April, the state fined Aramark $272,000 for failing to meet staffing requirements, among other violations.

 “We know budgets are about choices, and the choices DR&C made and continues to make despite our warnings, put our security at risk and made our prisons more violent and dangerous places to work," said OCSEA Pres. Christopher Mabe, also an AFSCME International vice president. “We need more security staff, an end to the food service contract and an opportunity to be real partners with DR&C in keeping our prisons safe."

“Taxpayers want to know where their money's going,” added OCSEA Corrections Assembly Pres. Jim Adkins. “Well, here's where it's going: Instead of investing in front line security staff, they've given wardens an average 20 percent raise, added unit managers and lieutenants and created an entire new structure of ‘regional managers’ we've never had before.”

DR&C officials “turned their backs on Ohioans by ignoring the problems of security and making out multiple security breaches to be no big deal,” said Mabe. “But it is a big deal when you find multiple maggot infestations or when 100 Aramark employees are walked out of the prisons in less than a year's time. And it's a big deal when a murderer is housed in a minimum security prison and escapes.”


#TurnOutForWhat? Our Values For A Start.

We believe that hard work should bring a fair day's pay and some measure of security when we retire. We believe that women and men trying to make ends meet shouldn't have to shoulder a higher tax burden than corporations. We're not heading to the polls to vote specific candidates or a party out of office, but to vote in the fundamental values that make day-to-day living a little easier for most American families.

When we turn out on Nov. 4, we win.

And here at AFSCME, we've recently launched the #TurnOutForWhat campaign on Twitter and Tumblr. People across the country are sharing why they're turning out to the polls on Nov. 4 and they're recruiting others to do the same. It's not just a hashtag; it's a call to action that we will heed on Election Day.

Please read my full entry on The Huffington Post here.

Laura Reyes is Secretary-Treasurer of AFSCME


Voter Rights Activists Fight Off Attacks Nationwide

This midterm election will mark the first major vote since the Supreme Court struck down a critical portion of the Civil Rights Voting Act. Emboldened by that decision, those who seek to narrow the electorate are attacking voter rights across the country, but AFSCME and other progressive organizations are fighting back.

We’ve come a long way since the first U.S. Presidential election, when only 6 percent of the population was eligible to vote. Over the years, great strides were made and voter eligibility significantly expanded due to the determination of brave women and men who stood up for justice even when it meant putting their lives on the line. 

Today’s tactics to keep people from the polls may not be as violent as it was in our early history, but they are no less oppressive. While there’s very little evidence to support the existence of voter fraud, politicians continually use it as a tool to stifle potential voters who would likely stand with working families.

In Georgia, a progressive organization called The New Georgia Project that helped register 85,000 voters recently received a subpoena from the Georgia secretary of state, who claims that 25 of those forms are invalid and that another 26 forms are potentially invalid. The timing of this investigation is suspicious, especially considering that Georgia is gearing up for one of the “most competitive (elections) in more than a decade.”  

Prohibitive voter ID laws aimed at keeping people of color, the elderly and young people from participating in the democratic process are also popping up around the country and not just in the South, thanks in part to ALEC’s so-called “model legislation.” In Wisconsin, even Fox News “acknowledged that a voter ID law may prevent people from casting votes.”

Texas currently has one of the strictest voter ID laws in the country, prompting the Justice Department to file suit in federal court to overturn the law.  In Ohio last year, the Legislature took a week off of early voting and eliminated times convenient for working people, such as evenings and weekends. That law was upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court on Sept. 29 by a narrow 5-4 vote. Voting rights activists are not backing down, however.

"We're still very much in the fight for a better tomorrow and now is not the time to give up. I want to be able to tell future generations that I did my best to protect their basic right to vote," said Melissa Garecht, a social worker who is a member of AFSCME Local 2634 in Wisconsin. "I'll always be proud to say that AFSCME stood on the right side of history."

 

 


Cab Drivers Stand Together and Win!

CHICAGO – In a big win for a new AFSCME local, Chicago Cab Drivers United has reached an agreement with Mayor Rahm Emanuel that would put thousands of dollars back into their pockets and signals a new era in relations with the city.

When the drivers began organizing for change earlier this year, they knew they were facing an uphill battle. Because they are not in a traditional workplace, isolated in their cabs around the city, the city would not recognize them for negotiations. But the drivers wouldn’t give in, taking their case to the people by speaking out at meetings and rallying in the streets. And now the city is starting to listen.

On Sept. 30, Cab Drivers United and Mayor Emanuel announced the “Taxi Drivers Fairness Reforms of 2014,” which include an ordinance that will be introduced to the Chicago City Council on Oct. 8 and a series of regulatory adjustments that will be implemented by the Department of Business Affairs and Consumer Protection. 

“We’re pleased that Mayor Emanuel has heard the voices of cab drivers and our union,” says AFSCME Council 31 Executive Director Roberta Lynch. “These reforms will put more money in the pockets of taxi drivers who work hard, support families and serve as the city’s ambassadors to travelers and tourists.”

The reforms will correct some injustices that have made life difficult for the city’s drivers.  The average Chicago cab driver earns only about $20,000 per year, in large part because of excessive fees, fines, and high lease rates. Under the new system, the lease rate that drivers pay to use alternative fuel vehicles will be lowered. The fees that credit card companies take out of cabbies’ profits will be reduced, and exorbitant ticketing will be reined in.

Cab drivers aren’t done fighting.  Fares have been frozen since 2005, meaning that drivers’ income lags far behind inflation. But this week’s victory proves that, even outside the traditional union workplace, AFSCME members can make big gains with new tactics.  

“By building power and standing together as CDU/AFSCME Council 31, our voices are being heard, and we are making a real difference,” says cab driver Dave Mangum. “We are making significant progress, but must continue our organizing to ensure that the City Council does right by cab drivers by passing these measures. And we have much more work to do so drivers will win the respect, justice and voice in our profession that we deserve.”

 


Raising the Minimum Wage: A Civil Rights Issue

A new study released this week by the Leadership Conference Education Fund and the Georgetown Center on Poverty and Inequality examines the connection between raising the minimum wage and advancing civil and human rights.

African Americans, Latinos, women and LGBT individuals, among other minority groups, make up a disproportionate number of the nation’s 3.5 million minimum wage earners. An increase to the minimum wage would therefore disproportionately benefit those groups, the authors of the report argue, and create more opportunities for them to advance.

“Raising the minimum wage is an effective policy tool for reducing various forms of economic inequality, which has been a fundamental goal of the civil rights movement of the 20th century and continues to be one today,” said Indivar Dutta-Gupta, senior fellow at Georgetown Center on Poverty and Inequality.

The report, “Improving Wages, Improving Lives: Why raising the minimum wage is a civil and human rights issue,” puts the current buying power of the minimum wage in a historical context, reviews progress made at the state level and urges Congress to pass the Minimum Wage Fairness Act.

“By failing to pass the Minimum Wage Fairness Act, Congress has also failed the millions of American families struggling in low-paying jobs,” said Nancy Zirkin, executive vice president of The Leadership Conference. “Today’s minimum wage can’t even support a family’s basic needs, let alone our nation’s economic recovery.”

AFSCME members are involved in campaigns across the nation to increase the minimum wage at the state and federal level which polls show an overwhelming majority of Americans support.


Council 31 Wins $60 Million in Back Pay for State Employees

After waiting more than three years for back pay explicitly spelled out in their contract, Illinois state employees finally got a measure of justice after an appellate court ruled they were owed the wages, and that the legislature's failure to appropriate sufficient funds cannot erase the state’s obligation to pay.

The decision in favor of AFSCME Council 31 followed a ruling by an independent arbitrator that the state's failure to pay the wages was a violation of the union contract, and an opinion by a circuit court judge that the wages were owed. The appellate court rejected an appeal by Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan, who sought to vacate the arbitrator's award.

The case involved wages earned from July 2011 to July 2013 that have not been not fully paid to thousands of AFSCME members who are employees in the state departments of Corrections, Human Services, Juvenile Justice, Natural Resources and Public Health.

"Today's decision is a win for working men and women who serve all the people of Illinois, caring for the disabled, keeping prisons safe, maintaining our state parks and much more," said Council 31 Executive Director Roberta Lynch.

"It’s a victory for a principle of simple fairness for all workers,” she said. “A contract is a contract, it means what it says, and no employer — not state government or anyone else — can unilaterally withhold wages owed."

Council 31 worked with the administration of Gov. Pat Quinn to pass a supplemental appropriation that the governor signed in May, paying about 45 percent of what was owed.

"Our union will continue to work to ensure that the state fulfills its obligation, honors the union contract and pays every employee what each is owed as quickly as possible," Lynch said.


Going Door to Door in Fight for Right to Retire with Dignity

PHOENIX – Members of AFSCME Locals 2384 and 2960 are going door to door this week to talk to their neighbors about the future of retirement in the city. City workers’ pensions hang in the balance this November as a right-wing group pushes a ballot measure called Proposition 487, which would replace secure retirement plans with 401(k)s. The locals, which represent city workers, are urging the public to vote “NO” to the anti-worker measure.

The measure was written and promoted by a group called the Arizona Free Enterprise Club, an anti-union lobbying group. The organization has been described as a “dark money” donor because it refuses to say where it gets the millions of dollars it spends on elections. Pensions cuts were already made in 2013, but corporate interest groups like the Free Enterprise Club won’t be happy until the pension system has been entirely dismantled.

Phoenix workers already retire to less than $30,000 per year after a career of public service. Switching to a defined contribution plan would leave retirees with less, and they’re not the only ones getting cheated. The city would face hundreds of millions of dollars in administrative costs to make the switch, and the unclear wording of the ballot measure is likely to lead to protracted court disputes.   

Even worse, dismantling the pension system would mean that workers in high-risk professions like firefighters and police officers would be left out in the cold if they were injured on the job. The city’s pension system is an important safety net for disabled workers.

“Prop. 487 will take away retirees’ Medical Expense Reimbursement Plan. My expenses are already tight. If 487 passes, I’ll be forced to choose between very essential necessities that my family and I rely on,” says retired city worker Georgana Meiner.


Support for ALEC Agenda Continues to Crumble

Google and several other high profile companies recently dropped their membership or support from the right-wing American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC). This is evidence that ALEC’s power to set the agenda in statehouses across the country is waning. That’s great news for working families.

We raised objections to ALEC’s extremist policies and model legislation before: its efforts to undermine health care reform; its advocacy of right-to-work-for-less laws that undermine the working class; its support for voter-suppression laws that disenfranchise potential voters; and even its backing of so-called “stand-your-ground” laws that became controversial after the tragic killing of 17-year-old Travon Martin.

The public’s support of ALEC’s agenda is crumbling. Most recently, AFSCME joined 62 other organizations in asking eBay to join the exodus. And it’s no wonder its financial backers are walking away.

There are more fundamental, economic reasons why ALEC’s corporate-backed agenda should be abandoned. Its proposals to cut taxes deeply for corporations and the highest income earners make it much harder for states to invest in public services, education, infrastructure and other priorities. State economic growth is impaired as a result. 

Kansas and Wisconsin governors implemented ALEC-modeled economic proposals with promises of thousands of jobs and economic revitalization. But now Govs. Sam Brownback of Kansas and Scott Walker of Wisconsin have to defend weak job growth, large budget deficits and stalled or declining median income.

In Wisconsin, Walker promised his economic initiatives would create 250,000 new jobs. It hasn’t happened. Also, since enactment of his economic policies, Wisconsin now faces a $396 million budget shortfall next year.

Brownback’s ALEC-inspired tax-slashing to benefit the wealthy and corporations created massive holes in nearly every local community and state service. Kansas now faces a looming $1.3 billion deficit in the coming five years and the state's growth rate, 3.7 percent, lags the rest of the county by nearly 3 percent.

Tax cuts and outsourcing public services, ALEC’s magic pills for all government’s ills, are just bad business models. More and more companies now realize they are also bad for their businesses as well.

Learn more about ALEC here.


Too Many Workplace Injuries Go Unreported. You Can Help Us Fix That

Workers who suffer injuries on the job too often fail to report it because they worry their employer will retaliate. The federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) is proposing to make it a violation for an employer to discourage employee reporting of workplace injuries. You can help us make that happen, but we need to know ASAP!

The fear of employer retaliation for reporting workplace injuries is well-founded. Also, some employers have policies that discourage reporting of injuries. OSHA recognizes the problem and wants to make it easier for workers to report such injuries, free of worry that it may lead to bad consequences. As part of its rulemaking process, the agency is seeking public comments.

AFSCME wants to help OSHA accomplish its rulemaking goal, so we are asking for your help. If any AFSCME member has experienced a threat of retaliation for reporting a workplace injury, or has actually experienced employer disciplining, threatening, demoting or taking other retaliatory action for reporting an injury on the job, we want to hear from you as soon as possible.

Please send us an email detailing your experience so we may offer it into evidence. No names will be used to protect your privacy. If your employer has a written policy that punishes workers for reporting injuries, please send that to us as well. Please email the information to osha@afscme.org no later than Oct. 10.


Walker Not ‘Bringing On’ Jobs

Economists track Wisconsin’s Failure to Recover

MADISON, Wisconsin – Gov. Scott Walker said “bring it on” when Politifact said it would track his promise to add 250,000 private-sector jobs in his first four-year term.

Walker threatened to add his own counter, but we haven’t heard much from him about job creation. The Politifact track is setting the record straight.

As of Sept. 18, economists at Politifact say, Walker is guilty of a “broken promise.” He’s up to 40 percent of his promise, with 102,195 jobs created, but Wisconsin ranks 35th in the nation as far as job growth, and dead last in the Midwest.

From January 2014 to August 2014, Walker’s so-called “reforms” produced a paltry 8,800 new private-sector jobs. That is hardly a comeback, or proof that his radical agenda did anything to grow Wisconsin’s economy. 

While just a few months ago Wisconsin found a $1 billion surplus, Walker since somehow found a place big enough to dig a $1.8 billion deficit.

No amount of spin can change dead last and a $1.8 billion deficit into anything more than a giant hole in the ground.


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