Milwaukee County’s Department of Health and Human Services Dir. Hector Colón just received a 39 percent raise in pay recently thanks to Milwaukee County Exec. Chris Abele. But for the other 4,000 county workers, Abele can’t find a dime to spare.
“Chris Abele says he wants to reward good work but he forgets about the hard-working county employees who keep our roads safe, maintain our parks, ensure our water is clean and care for our elderly and most vulnerable,” said Boyd McCamish, executive director of AFSCME Milwaukee Council 48. “Like so many politicians, he's preoccupied with rewarding his cronies."
Colón’s raise of $48,682 put him at $175,000 with the stroke of Abele’s pin. There are now nine county managers who are paid more than $129,000, according to 2015 salary figures, and many were given raises without public notice.
County Board Chairwoman Marina Dimitrijevic criticized Abele for giving these raises without informing the public. Dimitrijevic specifically questioned how Abele could justify a 39 percent boost to Colón’s pay just a few months after the administration and board debated cuts in funding to homeless shelters and indigent burials, and the closing of public pools.
“It seems out of balance when it comes to employees’ compensation,” said Dimitrijevic.
In the meantime, low wages for most county employees have hurt job recruitment for county positions and created more turnover, as employees moved to similar jobs in other counties that pay more.
New federal rules designed to expedite private-sector union elections will stand, thanks to President Obama, who reversed congressional action with the stroke of his pen.
Obama said the changes, recently made by the National Labor Relations Board, are needed because they make it easier for workers to join a union. “One of the freedoms of folks here in the United States is that if they choose to join a union, they should be able to do so,” he said. “And we shouldn’t be making it impossible for that to happen.”
President Obama also praised unions for helping to establish fair labor standards, eliminating child labor and improving wages and benefits for all workers.
The GOP-led Congress in early March blocked the NLRB rules, which are opposed by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and other business groups. On March 31, President Obama signed a “memorandum of disapproval” overturning the congressional decision.
The new rules are intended to “streamline Board procedures, increase transparency and uniformity across regions, eliminate or reduce unnecessary litigation, duplication and delay, and update the Board's rules on documents and communications in light of modern communications technology,” the NLRB said when it first proposed the rules in 2011.
Obama also announced that the White House this fall will host a summit “on increasing the voice and the rights of workers here in the United States.” Pointing to a recovery that has benefited mostly the people at the top while the middle class struggles, the President said we should “give workers the capacity to have their voices heard, to have some influence in the workplace, to make sure that they’re partners in building up the U.S. economy, and that growth is broad-based …”
Congratulations to the 2015 winners of the AFSCME Family Scholarship!
Each year the AFSCME Family Scholarship Program provides ten $2,000 scholarships to high school seniors that will be renewed for $2,000 each year for a maximum of four years, provided the student remains enrolled in a full-time course of study. The scholarship may be used for any field of study.
Nearly 1,000 Minnesota workers – members of AFSCME Council 5 – and retirees blitzed the state Capitol in St. Paul on March 25 in their annual Day on the Hill. Before meeting with their legislators, the activists started with a news conference at a downtown hotel. They pushed an agenda for change that includes:
Indiana Gov. Mike Pence on March 26 signed into law a bill that legalizes discrimination, allowing businesses to refuse service to customers simply because they are gay or lesbian. Further, since Governor Pence claims disingenuously that it is about religious freedom, his law protects any business owner who refuses to hire someone of a different religion from their own.
This un-American law sets Indiana and our nation back decades in the struggle for civil rights. It is an embarrassment and cannot be tolerated. As such, AFSCME will move our 2015 Women’s Conference in October from Indianapolis to another state. Additional details about the conference’s new location and any necessary date change will be announced as they become available.
The 1.6 million members of AFSCME cannot in good conscience make such a sizeable financial investment in Indiana knowing that women and men in that state are deliberately targeted for discrimination.
Throughout our proud history, our union has stood up whenever injustice has occurred – be it for striking sanitation workers in Memphis in 1968, or for the victims of apartheid in South Africa in the 1980s. Governor Pence’s law, motivated by ultra-right-wing zealots, is an affront to the vast majority of those in our nation who believe that every American deserves equal treatment under the law, no matter whom they love or where they worship.
AFSCME is pulling our Women’s Conference out of Indiana this fall as a sign of our disgust and disappointment with Governor Pence’s discriminatory law. We stand with the ever-growing number of corporations and associations who are taking similar action this week, and demanding fairness for all in the state of Indiana.
CHICAGO – With more than 1,000 young union members from across the nation in town, Cab Drivers United/AFSCME Council 31 member Ezz Abdelmagid was proud to lead activists in a virtual action aimed at educating them and enlisting their support. The drivers are working to reform the separate and unequal system Mayor Rahm Emanuel created when his administration licensed so-called “rideshare” operators Uber and Lyft.
“Cab drivers in Chicago are the motor that keep our great city moving throughout the year. Yet despite being an integral part of Chicago’s transportation system, we’re treated like second-class citizens,” said Abdelmagid.
“We attend school to become a cab driver. We undergo drug and physical tests. Our cabs are highly visible and under constant scrutiny by city inspectors and the police department. Yet when Mayor Emanuel and the city gave Uber a license to operate, they did so based on a promise, creating a two-tiered system,” continued Abdelmagid.
Abdelmagid led attendees in a virtual action, encouraging young union members to take a “selfie” with their cab drivers and to send that photo in a tweet or post it to Facebook during their time in Chicago.
Abdelmagid also asked those in the audience to send tweets to Mayor Emanuel, Alderman Emma Mitts and Alderman Anthony Beale, the chairs of the Licensing and Transportation Committees respectively, asking them to begin to fix the two-tiered system by holding a hearing so the public could comment.
“We’re asking these leaders to take a stand, to protect public safety, to protect our livelihoods, to take action on rideshare today. Send a tweet right now using the hashtag Cab Drivers United and send a message to the city that we won’t stand idly by while a billion-dollar corporation destroys our livelihood,” Abdelmagid said.
An arbitrator empowered to determine a contract impasse between the State of Iowa and its 19,000 state and judicial branch employees represented by AFSCME Iowa Council 61 ruled in favor of the workers when it accepted the union’s health insurance proposal requiring the overwhelming majority of the state and judicial branch employees to pay a $20 monthly healthcare premium. The move saves most state employees thousands of dollars per year.
The health insurance issue was a major sticking point in reaching a new two-year collective bargaining pact, with Governor Branstad’s negotiators unsuccessfully seeking a 10 percent employee premium payment for AFSCME members in 2016 and 15 percent in 2017. Talks that started in November failed to reach a voluntary agreement by the mid-February deadline.
“We are pleased that the arbitrator found in our favor on health insurance,” said AFSCME Iowa Council 61 President Danny Homan. “We believe the process worked in such a way as to appropriately balance the interests of state employees and state government. The arbitration award shows that Iowa’s current collective bargaining process works.”
Governor Branstad has long been at odds with state employees and has been pushing for state employees to pay large health insurance premium payments since he returned to office in 2011 for his fifth term. The latest contract calls for pay raises of about 6 percent over two years, but Branstad won’t propose a bill to fund the raises, saying that the costs must come from each agency’s budget. Most state employees have not had a raise in three years.
“With this fair decision, AFSCME members are pleased that we will be able to look forward and focus on providing public services to Iowans,” added Homan.
SACRAMENTO, Calif. — Emergency medical service (EMS) professionals working in 13 counties across California voted to ratify a new three-year agreement with the ambulance company, American Medical Response. The deal will improve safety by limiting the number of consecutive work shifts, providing pay increases and protecting health care for the nation’s largest collective bargaining unit of private EMS personnel.
The new collective bargaining agreement improves work conditions for 1,800 EMTs, paramedics, dispatchers, registered nurses, mechanics, vehicle supply technicians and office support personnel employed at AMR in Contra Costa, Placer, Sacramento, San Benito, San Francisco, San Joaquin, San Mateo, Santa Cruz, Shasta, Stanislaus, Sonoma, Tulare and Yolo counties.
The victory is the result of two years of intense negotiations with a company that—despite growing corporate profits—proposed increasing workers’ health insurance premiums, deductibles, and out-of-pocket costs. Workers rejected the company’s backward proposals and stood united for a contract that advances their profession while improving EMS in their communities.
“Standing together in a union gives us strength to improve patient care and provide security for our families,” said Sami Abed, a 13-year paramedic in Santa Cruz county and president of United EMS Workers-AFSCME Local 4911. “Having that power is important for EMS professionals anywhere.”
ATLANTA – Employees of the Atlanta Public School System (APS) are taking the fight for school children directly to Atlanta’s Mayor Kasim Reed, calling him out for withholding millions of dollars owed to the school system by the city.
APS workers rallied outside police headquarters March 25th, holding “Wanted” posters with a picture of Mayor Reed and calling for the Atlanta police chief to investigate for the mayor’s theft of funds owed to APS.
“Mayor Reed is stealing from Atlanta’s children and we have had enough of it,” said Susan McCaskill, an APS bus operator and member of AFSCME Local 1644. “In cases of theft, it’s up to law enforcement to investigate. Just because Kasim Reed is the mayor doesn’t mean that he should get away with thievery. ”
The money in question is two years of delinquent annual payments from the city to APS, more than $13 million. The money is supposed to be paid to the system in exchange for APS’s portion of property tax revenue generated from a green space project called, the Beltline. In addition to Beltline money, the APS workers are also calling out the mayor to release deeds to 12 abandoned properties owned by APS that could be worth hundreds of millions of dollars.
“I don’t understand why the mayor would stop funding from going to our schools,” said Khalia Roberts-Harris, an honor student and senior from Grady High School in Atlanta, who took off school to attend the rally. “We are told if we work hard we can be something when we get older, but the mayor is taking resources from our schools that will help us succeed.”
At a rally two weeks earlier, APS workers were accompanied by local news cameras as they walked into City Hall and asked to speak with Mayor Reed. An aide told the workers that he was unavailable.
“This rally is about what is best for our kids,” said Quentin Hutchins, an APS bus operator. “They deserve a school system that is fully funded and a mayor that doesn’t bully his way into getting what he wants for the benefit of his corporate buddies.”
The University of Washington was taught an important lesson by approximately 20 skilled trades workers who play a vital role in making the university a world-class facility. If you violate the collective bargaining agreement, undermining the importance of the skilled workers, you can expect to pay a huge price.
In 2013, heat and air conditioning specialists, plumbers, electricians and other skilled trades workers represented by AFSCME Local 1488 WFSE, blew the whistle when the UW improperly outsourced maintenance work for renovation of the landmark Husky Stadium.
In February of this year, the Public Employee Relations Board (PERB) sided with workers, ordering the university to pay $45,000, divided up among the workers.
“Every time the university contracts out, it costs the taxpayers more money and I’m a taxpayer and it also costs me more money,” said Paula Lukaszek, president of Local 1488 WFSE.
The agreement settles three unfair labor practice complaints filed by the union. Key provisions include:
The UW will immediately return, to bargaining unit members, any work “historically and traditionally” done by the workers related to Husky Stadium, including the Don James Center and the Stadium Clinic.
The UW agrees that, until Sept. 1, 2017, it will provide Local 1488 WFSE with timely copies of all work orders and contractor purchase orders for any repair or maintenance work in Husky Stadium.
The UW will provide the orientation, training and tools appropriate and reasonably necessary for members to resume outsourced work now coming back to them.
And, until Sept. 1, 2017, the union and university will use a mediation/arbitration process to resolve any disputes covered by the settlement.
Hear Local 1488 WFSE members talk about the settlement here.
Local 1482 member Rita Meade, the library information supervisor at Bay Ridge branch library in Brooklyn, helps out a patron.
Since 2009, front-line staffing at New York City's public libraries has plummeted by 21 percent, according to union records.
The city's three library systems are struggling to provide services after being hit with millions of dollars in budget cuts during the three-terms of former Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg.
Because of cuts to staff and funding during the Bloomberg administration, patrons often wait weeks before they receive book requests.
Schoolchildren flock to branch libraries. But after-school programs are shrinking. Many branches are now staffed by only one full-time or part-time children's Librarian.
Neighborhood libraries can't meet the demand for English language instruction for immigrants.
Libraries are the principal gateway to the Internet for people without broadband access in their home. Yet the libraries cannot provide enough training and access to computers for the city's 3 million residents who lack Internet service at home.
"We are trying to do more with less, as the saying goes," said John Hyslop, president of Queens Library Guild Local 1321. "But there is only so much you can do when you lack resources. We're facing a crisis after years of deep budget reductions and downsizing."
"Branches of Opportunity," a 2013 report by the Center for an Urban Future, documents the need for an infusion of funds into the library systems. Between 2002 and 2011, the city reduced its contributions 8 percent, from $296 million to $274 million, according to the report.
The report also notes that since 2008, the New York Public Library recorded a net loss of $28.2 million in city funding while Queens Public Library absorbed a $17.5 million loss and Brooklyn Public Library was hit with an $18.1 million reduction.
"Due to these funding reductions, all three systems have had to reduce their hours of operation to an average of five days a week, down from six days a week in 2008," the report says. "The budget cuts have also forced the libraries in New York to curtail the amount they spend on books and other materials."
"The budget cuts have devastated the libraries," said DC 37 Executive Director Henry Garrido.
Spending on books and other materials has dropped dramatically. According to the report, the Queens Library acquisition budget has fallen from $15 million to $5 million in recent years.
A skeleton staff
Children's Librarian Laura Bishop reads to kids at a community garden at 9th Street and Avenue C in Manhattan.
Children's Librarian Laura Bishop reads to kids at a community garden at 9th Street and Avenue C in Manhattan.
Through layoffs, attrition and hiring freezes, the libraries have eliminated hundreds of good jobs with decent benefits, at a time when the city's middle class has felt squeezed by an economic recovery that has solely benefitted New York's richest residents.
"We are so underfunded and understaffed, we can't give the public the level of service they deserve," said Eileen Muller, president of Brooklyn Library Guild Local 1482. "We have lost so many people. I don't think our membership has ever been so low."
"Those branches that do operate on Saturdays often do so with a skeleton staff," said Valentin Colon, president of New York Public Library Guild Local 1930.
When a staffer calls in sick, NYPL branches are sometimes forced to shut down the children's section for the day. On some occasions, libraries have run operations without a Librarian.
"I have people who say ˜I can't take a day off because the staff will be short,'" Colon said.
And gone are the days when you could count on finding a best seller when you go to the library. "You are put on the waiting list when you reserve a popular book, but you may be number 235 on the waiting list," Muller said.
Because of underfunding and understaffing, city libraries cannot provide enough training for patrons, according to Ron Barber, a Local 1482 executive board member.
Barber added that buildings do not have the bandwidth needed for speedy Internet service, and branches don't have enough laptops, tablets and PCs. The libraries are encouraging patrons to take out e-books, but the staff's schedules do not allow sufficient time to show patrons, especially seniors, how to access those books. Despite promoting e-lending, electronic checkouts account for only 5 percent of the circulation at NYPL and 1 percent in Queens and Brooklyn, according to the Center for an Urban Future report.
To carry out downsizing, the city's libraries have used technology, such as self-checkout machines. This has increased the workload of clericals who often do what used to be back-room work - such as preparing books and magazines for circulation - while seated at the circulation desk.
"If we had more staff, we could do more programs," said Rita Meade, the library information supervisor at the Bay Ridge branch in Brooklyn.
Parents want more story time for their children and more academically-oriented after-school programs, Meade said, but because of the staffing crunch Bay Ridge cannot accommodate their wishes or organize activities such as a teen book club.
City libraries can only meet the needs of a small number of people who wish to attend English Speakers of Other Language classes and GED courses. The Flushing branch in Queens is only able to serve 20 percent of the people on the waiting list for GED classes. This is a city where nearly 30 percent of the working people in New York City lack a high school diploma. The city also has one of the lowest GED attainment rates in the nation.
Security is a big concern of both the staff and the public. Recently, Queens Library agreed to Local 1321's request for a Police Officer at a branch where gangs congregated, intimidating the staff and patrons. Union leaders report that workers at the New York Public Library have been assaulted.
And in a city where homelessness has skyrocketed, "The library has become like a hotel," said Cuthbert Dickenson, president of Quasi-Public Employees Local 374, which represents blue-collar workers, including security guards, at NYPL, which serves Manhattan, the Bronx and Staten Island. "People come in the morning and don't leave," Dickenson said. "This creates a security issue."
DC 37 and the union's four library locals are part of a coalition campaigning to secure an additional $65 million for annual operating expenses and $1.1 billion for a 10-year capital plan. City Council Majority leader Jimmy Van Bramer, who chairs the council's committee on libraries and cultural institutions, is coordinating the campaign. Also participating are the Center for an Urban Future, The Charles H. Revson Foundation and community groups.
The funding sought by the DC 37-supported library working group would improve services dramatically:
Hours of service: Full six-day service per week, up from five-day services with some branches open on Saturdays;
Circulation: New York City would become the city with the highest circulation in the world (76 million items);
Jobs: 736 jobs would be created, increasing the workforce of the three library systems from 3,800 to 4,536;
Patron visits: The expanded hours would increase annual visits (now 40 million) by 5 million by making servies available to people who are unable to use the libraries with the current hours;
Technology and Training: Technology training slots would be doubled to 230,000 and computer sessions would be increased by 3 million;
After-school Programs: Universal access to after-school resources, serving 20,000 students, up from 8,500;
Early Childhood Literacy Support (ages 0-5): Increased access for 301,000 more infants and toddlers, and
INYC: Five enrollment centers for the city's new identification card would be created.
"Today's public library is about much more than books," Garrido said.
"The branch libraries are the heart of our neighborhoods," he said. "They offer a safe haven for children after school; a place where seniors can meet and read the newspaper; job assistance for the unemployed, and educational programs for immigrants and people seeking their GED. The city must increase its support for the libraries, which sustain our quality of life and help keep the economy humming."
This article originally appeared in DC 37’s Public Employee Press.
Two-year-old Quincy Kroner knows a thing or two about heroes. He watches his heroes from the living room window of his Cincinnati home every Friday afternoon. That’s when AFSCME Local 250sanitation workers Mark Davis and Eric Washington drive by in their garbage truck and collect trash from his street.
Usually Quincy and the workers just exchange waves, but last week their friendship went viral. When Quincy’s parents got him a brand new toy garbage truck as a reward for successfully potty training, he was anxious to show off his new toy. So he and his dad stepped out to meet his heroes face to face.
But when the big moment came, Quincy was so excited he burst into tears. “He is a pretty shy guy, he generally has to warm up around strangers,” his dad, Ollie Kroner, told BuzzFeed News. “But it doesn’t take long before he wants to talk trucks!”
The photo his dad snapped of that moment and posted on Facebook quickly captured the Internet’s attention. With millions of views and likes already, Quincy and his AFSCME heroes are now an online phenomenon, even catching a mention on ABC’s Good Morning America.
“I can’t believe how popular the photo has been,” Kroner said. “I was disappointed that I didn’t catch him grinning in his big moment. But what can you do? It was a great photo in a different kind of way.”
Sometimes it takes a 2-year-old to remind us all what a hero really is. It’s not about magic capes or superpowers. It’s about hard work, dependability and doing something that makes our communities better places to live. We get it, Quincy! We think sanitation workers are a big deal too.
Rauner’s executive order is illegal, and unions have filed a lawsuit to stop it. Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan seems to agree.
But AFSCME Local 3649, Illinois Council 31, reminds us that such attacks need not hurt us if we stand together. Thanks to Rauner’s executive order, Local 3649 now has 100 percent full membership, something it had never seen before. When the eight to 12 fee payers it had realized how the governor was trying to divide them, they became full-paying members.
As our Illinois sisters and brothers demonstrate, when many working families are facing hardship and workers’ rights are under attack, solidarity is still our best defense.
CHICAGO – Cab drivers, fed up with an unequal playing field with “rideshare” companies, took their concerns to their aldermen prior to the City Council’s first post-election meeting to let them know that more council action is necessary.
“We want to let them know that what they’ve passed, and what the state’s passed, has not gone far enough for the common cab driver,” said Rocky Armstrong, a veteran Chicago cab driver and Cab Drivers United/AFSCME Council 31 member.
Drivers spoke to aldermen about how the influx of an estimated 13,000 amateur UberX and Lyft drivers threatens public safety, and their livelihood as professional drivers.
Professional cab drivers must attend two weeks of school, hold commercial liability insurance, and pass drug tests and a physical prior to earning their public chauffeur license.
On the other hand, Uber and Lyft have been left to self-police despite numerous reported cases of sexual assault in Chicago.
“At least they should be regulated. Let them have an exam, let them know what they are doing. Let them have commercial insurance, and then, if they pass the exam, we can compete in the free market,” said Tesfaldet Abraham, Cab Drivers United/AFSCME Council 31 member.
Big corporations talk about being engines of economic growth, but a lot of those engines are fueled with our tax dollars.
A study by Good Jobs First, “Uncle Sam’s Favorite Corporations,” details how two-thirds of the $68 billion in business grants and tax credits awarded by the federal government during the past 15 years have gone to large corporations.
“We now see that big business dominates federal subsidy spending the way it does state and local programs,” said Philip Mattera, principal author of the study.
The largest recipient of these federal grants and tax credits is a Spanish energy company called Iberdrola, with a total subsidy of $2.2 billion. The company invested heavily in U.S. power-generation plants.
Separately, the total value of loans, loan guarantees and bailout assistance awarded to banks in the wake of the financial meltdown runs “into the trillions of dollars,” according to the report. Bank of America is the biggest aggregate bailout recipient, to the tune of approximately $3.5 trillion.
Good Jobs First, a resource center that promotes corporate and government accountability, also compiled state subsidy data showing that many companies pulling in billions in federal money are striking it rich in subsidies from states and local governments.
For instance, Boeing, a top recipient of federal grants, tax credits, loans, loan guarantees and bailout assistance, received more state and local subsidy money than any other company. In 2013, Boeing got the largest tax break awarded to a single company in any state’s history: $8.7 billion, an enticement for the company to build its 777X plane in Washington state. The company told state lawmakers it would pursue other options if it didn’t receive a sweet deal from the Legislature, along with concessions from workers.
Some of the big winners in the federal-subsidy game are companies that do big business with the government as providers of goods and services. “Of the 100 largest for-profit federal contractors in FY2014,” the report says, “49 have received federal grants or allocated tax credits and 30 have received loans, loan guarantees or bailout assistance.”
In addition, federal subsidies have gone to companies that reincorporated overseas to avoid paying U.S. taxes, such as Ensco, an oilfield services company that reincorporated in Britain but is based in Texas.
AFSCME Pres. Lee Saunders appeared March 23rd, at a Center for American Progress discussion about our nation's urban centers, and the ongoing challenges they face, from housing and transportation to education and workforce accessibility. Below is a sample of Pres. Lee Saunders' remarks.
"There is a tragedy going on in our urban centers across this country.
“You know about the Detroits of the world, you've heard about Atlantic City. You've heard that some of those cities are actually having a comeback. But if you look at those specific comebacks, you will see that in effect, it's just in smaller areas of that particular city. In fact, when you go outside of that area, you see a lot of poverty, a lot of joblessness, problems with public education, with the infrastructure. So we believe that we've got to have a dialogue, a conversation.
“We believe that this should be a priority not only of the federal government, but that we should coordinate our activities between the federal, state and local levels, to resolve the problem, to provide quality jobs in these urban areas. To provide employment, to provide hope for people who reside in these areas. They're playing by the rules every single day. They want to have a chance, and they want to have the opportunity to achieve that American Dream."
States and local governments have been cutting vital public services for years because of shrinking revenue and bad policy decisions. Crumbling roads, bridges and other infrastructure, and even shrinking educational opportunities, are the unfortunate results. A new report offers a real solution to this budget dilemma.
The report, Tax Fairness: An Answer to State Budget Problems, describes a financial crisis that could have been avoided – and can be fixed – by making our tax codes fair. The writers, economist Stephen Herzenberg, executive director of Keystone Research Center, and Greg LeRoy, executive director of Good Jobs First, contend the tax codes of most states and municipalities allow the wealthiest taxpayers, and rich corporations, to avoid paying their fair share.
“Revenue lost because of rising inequality and regressive state tax codes has led states to impose years of unnecessary austerity – underfunding schools, cutting investments in higher education, and deferring maintenance of our aging infrastructure.” Herzenberg said in a statement. “After 30 years of a middle-class squeeze, it’s time to restore balance.”
The problem, the report says, is that “money that used to grow the middle class increasingly flows up to the 1 percent, where it gets taxed far less. This is a key driver of the structural deficits plaguing many state governments.”
The richest taxpayers are taxed less because laws promoted by the wealthy, and corporations, place a “heavier burden on low- and middle-income families than on high-income families,” they write. In fact, the report notes, the top 1 percent of taxpayers pay only 5.4 percent of their income in taxes, while low-income families pay twice as much (10.9 percent).
In addition, the wealthiest taxpayers and corporations get more tax breaks, lower rates and loopholes that also drive down the taxes they pay. If states simply taxed the top 1 percent at the same rate they tax the middle 20 percent, states and localities would raise $88.5 billion each year, and an additional $128 billion annually just by “extending tax fairness to the top 20 percent.”
“Restoring public goods that benefit all employers and all working families is critical to reversing the corrosive rise of inequality,” said LeRoy. “The middle class won’t recover – and states won’t get their finances in order – until they fix their tax codes.”
Today, March 23, is the fifth anniversary of the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare, a law that helped 16.4 million people obtain or keep health insurance. That’s cause for celebration.
AFSCME supported passage of the ACA from its inception and played an important role in promoting its benefits. Thanks to the ACA, lives have been saved. In addition:
Millions of people enrolled in new health care plans and Medicaid.
Insurance companies can no longer deny coverage because of preexisting conditions.
Children up to the age of 26 can stay on their parents’ insurance policy.
Millions of seniors have access to free cancer screenings and get help with their prescription drug costs.
And yet the last five years have been more controversial than celebratory. Many opponents of the ACA plotted against it, looking for ways to overturn it, from the moment President Obama signed it into law on March 23, 2010. Since then, the ACA survived attacks on multiple fronts, including more than 50 votes by the Republican-led Congress to repeal, undo or modify it.
The attacks continue. Earlier this month, the U.S. Supreme Court heard arguments in King v. Burwell, a case in which the federal tax credits that help millions afford health insurance are at risk. Perhaps the law’s closest brush with death came in 2012, inside the same courtroom, where by a 5-to-4 vote the justices upheld the law’s constitutionality.
As Sylvia Mathews Burwell, secretary of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, put it last month, the ACA is now “an important part of the everyday lives of millions of Americans.”
“It’s the relief we see in the eyes of millions of parents who can cover their young adult children on their own health plan,” she said. “It’s our mothers, sisters and daughters who are no longer paying more for coverage just because they’re female. It’s the people with preexisting conditions who can no longer be locked out of health insurance.”
In the years ahead, the ACA will continue to benefit millions of people. Today, we celebrate the positive change it has already brought.
Pensions have all but vanished in most workplaces, replaced (if at all) by 401(k)-style savings plans that leave whatever dollars that are put aside for the long haul to the wild gyrations of the stock market. Now comes a sobering new report by the National Institute on Retirement Security (NIRS) that shows how far most Americans are from having a secure retirement.
For working households near retirement, researchers found that the median retirement account balance is just $14,500. That means approximately half the people surveyed have more than that amount and half have less. Diane Oakley, executive director of NIRS, said “this amount won't even replace one year's salary for millions of older Americans. Unfortunately, they just don't have time to catch up on their saving shortfall.”
An even more depressing picture emerges when counting all households (those with retirement savings and those with none). In that case, the median retirement account balance is a mere $2,500.
The NIRS report, The Continuing Retirement Savings Crisis,alsoreveals thatapproximately 62 percent of working households, ages 55 to 64, have savings far below what most people in this country need to be self-sufficient in retirement. That means that more Americans have to work longer.
The situation is even bleaker for minorities. Only 38 percent of African-American men and 32 percent of African-American women have retirement accounts; for Latinos, only 27 percent of men and 21 percent of women have either pensions or retirement savings.
“I would be in big trouble without my pension, that’s for sure,” said Gary Tavormina, a retired New York corrections officer and president of Retiree Chapter 82. “I tried to save for retirement, but it wasn’t easy. Social Security is essential but it doesn’t cover all of my expenses. I’m not surprised people without pensions are hurting. I know my retirement security depends on it.”
TheNIRS report notes that the average 401(k) balance of $100,000 for households nearing retirement age is not only “inadequate to provide meaningful income security for the typical household; it also only counts those that own retirement accounts in the first place.”
Adding to this miserable outlook for most Americans without a pension to look forward to is another shocking statistic: $7.7 trillion. That is the gap between what American households “actually saved today and what they should have saved today to maintain their living standards in retirement,” according to another report, this one by the Pension Rights Center.
Also called the Retirement Income Deficit, this retirement savings gap rose from $6.6 trillion since it was first announced five years ago. “The Retirement Income Deficit is one of the starkest illustrations of the retirement crisis we’re facing,” said Karen Friedman, executive vice president and policy director of the Pension Rights Center.
It is inconceivable but true: In 2015 there are workers in America who don’t have the right to minimum wage.
What’s worse, these workers are responsible for taking care of the most important people in our lives – our grandparents, parents, friends and loved ones who require in-home support to stay safe and healthy at home. And thanks in part to our aging baby boomers, home care is the fastest-growing occupation in America.
Public safety officers and AFSCME members from Alaska to Connecticut testified before the President’s Task Force on 21st Century Policing, which on March 4 submitted those recommendations and others to President Obama. Obama created the task force last year to bridge the gap between community and law enforcement, examining best practices around the country.
In Phoenix, Sgt. Aaron Danielson, president of the Public Safety Employee Association/AFSCME, testified about the importance of bringing community and police together to help broaden the public’s understanding of the work and commitment officers bring to their jobs every day.
“Our experience tells us that Citizen Police Academies, an idea that’s been around awhile that we adopted in 2012, could be the ideal way to bring police and citizens closer together in pursuit of our joint community public safety goals,” said Danielson, with the Fairbanks, Alaska International Airport Police and Fire Department. “We graduated our first class of 24 citizens in May 2012, and the 12-week course was truly eye-opening – for citizens and police alike.”
Testifying in Washington, DC, Sgt. David Orr, a Norwalk, Connecticut, public safety officer and AFSCME Local 1727 member, urged the task force to recommend extending workman’s compensation to cover Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. Orr cited the psychological injuries suffered by police officers in the tragedy and aftermath of the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting in Newtown.
“As cops, we all know that those outside of our profession love to hear a good war story,” said Orr. ”But nobody wants to hear the story told by the Newtown officer who responded to Sandy Hook Elementary and entered the first grade classroom to find an entire class full of 6-year-old children murdered by a deranged young man with an assault rifle.”
AFSCME law enforcement members welcome the opportunity to partner with the administration to implement the recommendations to enhance the public’s understanding of the work these brave women and men do every day to keep our communities safe.
AFSCME represents more than 100,000 public safety officers across the country from jails and prisons to towns and cities. AFSCME is committed to sharing the stories of dedication, sacrifice and commitment these brave women and men take to work every day.
ANNAPOLIS, Md. – More than 500 workers from every corner of Maryland converged on the state Capitol to rally against Gov. Larry Hogan’s plan to take away a pay raise from workers and drastically cut essential programs. Workers are supporting the Better Budget for Maryland plan, adopted unanimously by the House of Delegates Appropriations Committee.
“Legislators have a choice between Governor Hogan’s budget that slashes education spending and takes away a 2 percent pay raise for state and university employees, and the House Appropriations Committee’s budget that saves the 2 percent pay raise and restores 90 percent of Governor Hogan’s cuts to our classrooms,” said AFSCME Council 3 Pres. Patrick Moran.
“This plan strengthens our pension by investing $1.52 billion into the fund. Maryland remains one of only a handful of states that invests more into our pension fund than is actuarially required,” he said.
AFSCME Council 3, Council 67 and ACE-AFSCME Local 2250 members were joined by AFSCME Retiree Chapter 1 and teachers represented by the American Federation of Teachers and Maryland State Education Association (MSEA).
From day one, newly elected Governor Hogan has taken aim at public workers and teachers. In his first budget, he planned to take away a 2 percent wage increase negotiated in the state workers’ most recent contract. “We will not sit idly by and take this abuse,” Moran told the crowd. “Together, with our sisters and brothers from MSEA, our AFSCME family from Baltimore and countless residents from across the state, we will make clear that we all deserve a better budget for all of Maryland.”
Glen Middleton, AFSCME Council 67 executive director and also International vice president, added, “All Marylanders stand in solidarity with the state’s workforce to urge elected officials to make the right choice for a better budget for all of Maryland. Our legislators need to keep an eye on our future by fully funding our education priorities.”
The House of Delegates approved the Better Budget plan March 18, and the state Senate is expected to take up the measure soon. The governor still has the ability to veto the plan, but AFSCME Council 3, AFSCME Council 67 and ACE-AFSCME Local 2250 will continue to fight back.
You have to go all the way back to ancient Athens to find an explanation for what's happening in our country today. It was the political philosopher Aristotle who first used the term "oligarchy" to refer to rule by the rich, warning against the dangers posed to democracy when a small elite takes control of the reins of power to advance its own interests.
That danger has never been more real in our lifetimes than it is right now, and perhaps no greater anywhere in this country than in my own state of Illinois. Bruce Rauner, our newly-elected billionaire Republican governor, spent more than $25 million of his own money to win election, then immediately created a $20 million intimidation fund to threaten any politician who won't go along with his agenda.
Rauner's rise to power was fueled by close ties to other billionaires, like Chicago-based hedge fund honcho Ken Griffin, who attracted national attention when he bemoaned the fact that the super-rich have "insufficient influence" on politics.
The reality, of course, is that the U.S. Supreme Court's 2010 Citizens United decision striking down campaign finance restrictions accelerated the steadily-swelling influence of the über-wealthy on the political process. That means the very rich exert ever more sway over not just the outcome of elections, but also the critical policy issues that affect all our lives.
Many goals unite the New American Oligarchy to which Bruce Rauner belongs: the privatization of public services, a tax system that shields their riches, the destruction of public education, diminished workplace rights and consumer protections, lower wages, and far too much more of that ilk.
But there's no doubt that their first and foremost goal is to clear the playing field of one of the few entities that has the resources and determination to stand up to them -- America's labor unions.
State and local lawmakers often don’t have the resources or staff to research how other states have solved complex policy problems. But union-busting politicians have been taking their agenda from state to state at breakneck speed. It’s left pro-worker lawmakers wondering how they can compete with the right-wing juggernaut.
Conservative state legislators owe much of their success to a secretive group called the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), which helps politicians spread bad ideas from state to state. ALEC’s methods are shady, but the basic concept of sharing legislation among like-minded lawmakers has been wildly successful. It’s a big part of the reason that the anti-union crowd has such an unshakeable grip on many state capitols.
This month, state legislators from around the country met with White House advisors and Sen. Elizabeth Warren to discuss how progressives can match this level of organization and information-sharing. They are building a new group called the State Innovation Exchange (SiX). “It’s the biggest missing piece in the progressive infrastructure,” said SiX’s executive director Nick Rathod, a former White House aide who helped implement the President’s policies in the states.
But make no mistake—SiX isn’t an ALEC for the left. SiX is building a more transparent organization that helps lawmakers to put their constituents first. Unlike ALEC, it won’t be directed by a board of CEOs and it won’t require its members to pledge loyalty to the group’s mission. All a lawmaker needs to participate in SiX is a shared commitment to policies that help working families.
The group is building a “library of legislation” that allows any lawmaker or community group to upload their idea for a bill into a searchable database. By using the SiX library, a lawmaker in Florida can instantly see how her counterparts in Minnesota or Washington tackled the problem of paid sick leave.
The experiment is just getting off the ground, but thousands of bills and briefs already were added to the library. Times are tough in politics these days, but pro-worker lawmakers will face these challenging times armed with new ideas.
A suspect who allegedly shot and killed Grady Waxenfelter, a member of AFSCME Oregon Local 350, Council 75, could spend the rest of his life in prison if found guilty on a murder charge.
Dirck M. White, 42, is currently in custody in Los Angeles facing the murder charge after he allegedly fired at police officers in November. He has an extensive criminal record and is also wanted in Washington state for weapons violations and in connection to a child rape investigation.
Waxenfelter was an assistant weighmaster with Clackamas County, Oregon, when he pulled over White’s truck on Feb. 6, 2014 to conduct an inspection. White’s truck was carrying firewood. Weighmasters help ensure that trucks and commercial vehicles meet certain safety standards. It’s likely that Waxenfelter wanted to inform White he needed a license plate on his trailer.
After a brief pursuit, the two vehicles came to a stop. Waxenfelter, 47, died from a gunshot wound to the head. He is survived by his wife Tedra Waxenfelter, two daughters and one son.
Waxenfelter began work for Clackamas County as a mechanic in 1997 and served as weighmaster since 2005. After he was killed, the county was fined for not properly training and equipping weighmasters to perform such stops. The county also settled with Waxenfelter’s widow in a wrongful death lawsuit.
White is expected to be extradited to Oregon to face charges. A speedy resolution to this case would bring much needed closure to Waxenfelter’s family and friends, of which he had many.