August 03, 2015
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How Rich People Haunt You

This is a story from beyond the grave, a frightful tale of how the wealthiest Americans are able to keep their assets tax-free long after they are in their graves, thanks to laws written to help the rich stay that way – forever.

In a fascinating new article for The Nation magazine, Mike Konczal, a fellow at the Roosevelt Institute, writes about a legal method the very wealthy can use to keep the IRS away from money they leave to their heirs. Great for them, perhaps, but a drain on revenue the country needs to spend on public services, to maintain infrastructure and to remain strong.

Here’s how this clever tax-avoidance scheme works, according to Konczal:

“Americans have, historically, had a simple approach to dealing with wealth after its holder dies: You can do whatever you want with your property, but not for very long. … Eventually, time catches up with them and their estates dissolve. Or at least that’s how it used to be. Remember that the dead can’t actually do any of this themselves because they are, in fact, dead. Instead, a trust is empowered to carry out the last wishes of the deceased.”

A trust, writes Konczal, “acts like a ghost, enforcing their wishes beyond the grave. But there’s a safeguard built in to prevent abuses: Trusts have been governed by something called the rule against perpetuities, which places a roughly 100-year limit on how long they can exist. This prevents people with no connection to the living world from putting restrictions on our country’s wealth.” 

But there is a type of trust that keeps the estate’s funds tax-free long after the estate owner dies, called a “perpetual dynasty trust.” Twenty-eight states have them, and what they do should scare your socks off if you really care about America’s future. The reason is that dynasty trusts can avoid taxes as long as that dynasty trust exists.

“And since the eventual death of the trust isn’t built in, a dynasty trust can buy houses and assets that are retained for descendants, tax-free, by the trust indefinitely,” writes Konczal.The wealthy can tie up their money, outside of any public obligation or scrutiny, forever.”

This handy guide from The Nation magazine explains it simply.

We all know that the wealthiest Americans already have too many tax breaks and large corporations have methods of legally avoiding them entirely. But it seems it’s never enough. Corporate-backed lawmakers keep handing out even more outlandish ways for the rich to avoid paying taxes without regard for how much harm it does.

If that doesn’t scare you, watch this truly shocking video to find out just what the super-rich are able to accumulate during their lives, and which – thanks to perpetual dynasty trusts – they can leave to their heirs, tax free, long after they’re dead.


Voting Rights Act at 50 Needs Restoration

Two years ago, the U.S. Supreme Court gutted the federal law designed to end discrimination at the polling booth. Several states moved quickly to enact voter ID laws intended to make it harder for minorities and younger voters to cast their ballots. On the 50th anniversary of the landmark Voting Rights Act of 1965, Aug. 6, we must recommit to the founding principle that made this country free – the right to vote.

The law, signed by Pres. Lyndon Johnson, was supposed to create the legal foundation to enforce the 15th Amendment to the Constitution, which guaranteed all citizens the right to vote regardless of “race, color, or previous condition of servitude.” It was meant to end the use of barriers such as poll taxes and literacy tests that Southern states, in particular, used to keep African-Americans from voting for their representatives.

For the most part, it worked. But some lawmakers – mostly in Southern states – were particularly determined to keep African Americans, other minorities, and young voters, away from the voting booths and found creative ways to evade the Voting Rights Act.

“They rolled back early voting, eliminated same-day registration, disqualified ballots filed outside home precincts and created new demands for photo ID at polling places,” The New York Times Magazine recently reported in a story entitled, “A Dream Undone: Inside the 50-Year Campaign to Roll Back the Voting Rights Act.”

Voting discrimination has especially hurt African Americans, Latinos, Native Americans and Asian Americans, according to a report by the National Commission on Voting Rights. “Each of these minority groups suffered extensive official voting discrimination in the past. Since 1995, successful lawsuits have been brought on behalf of each group to remedy voting discrimination and to provide equal electoral opportunities,” the commission said. 

Last year, some members of Congress tried to prevent these abuses of our basic right to vote by supporting the Voting Rights Amendment Act of 2014, introduced by Sen. Patrick Leahy of Vermont. At the time, AFSCME Pres. Lee Saunders said the legislation “would restore voting oversight in states with a history of racial discrimination.” It did not pass.

Now it has been reintroduced as the Voting Rights Advancement Act of 2015. It has our strong support. Last year, at our International Convention in Chicago, delegates passed a resolution stating that “AFSCME will fight any form of voting discrimination or voter suppression by mobilizing and energizing American workers” and will “lobby Congress to support legislation to protect the Voting Rights Act….”

You can help us pass this critically important bill. Just click here to sign a petition to your Senate and House members urging them to move forward with the Voting Rights Advancement Act. 


Gov. Rauner Solicits Retirees To Be Strikebreakers

SPRINGFIELD, Ill. – Echoing his campaign threats to strip public service workers of their rights and drive down their middle-class standard of living, Gov. Bruce Rauner’s administration is asking retired state employees to report to work as strikebreakers in the event of a possible work stoppage.

The governor also failed to deny reports that he is considering calling on the Illinois National Guard to replace state workers in the event of a lockout or strike – even though there’s never been a work stoppage in the more than 40 years of state employee collective bargaining in Illinois.

According to a report by the State Journal-Register, AFSCME retiree David Scheina of rural Sangamon County received a call from the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services, asking him to work in the event of a strike.

“I was somewhat appalled by it,” he said. “I feel it was wrong, an employee on state time trying to line up retirees to cross a potential picket line that I didn’t see being suggested. I thought it wasn’t bargaining in good faith.”

Following a 25-year career working for the state of Illinois, Scheina retired three years ago.

“I think it’s important that the retirees also understand that these negotiations have an impact on their future also,” Scheina added. “Our medical and dental and vision care benefits could still be on the table.”

The possibility of using Illinois National Guard soldiers in place of locked-out or striking state workers got a negative review from former National Guard Adjutant General and current state Rep. David Harris, a Republican.

"It's a terribly impractical and, in my opinion, inadvisable idea," said Harris. "You're going to replace [state public service workers] with people who carry M-16s and .45 pistols?”

After more than five months of negotiations over a new union contract, AFSCME’s current agreement that covers more than 35,000 Illinois state employees expired on June 30. AFSCME Council 31 and Governor Rauner’s administration agreed to a two-month contract extension on July 29. Soon after, however, Rauner vetoed legislation that would have offered state employees the option of binding arbitration to resolve contract differences and avoid a strike or lockout.

The veto is a further sign that the governor may be seeking to provoke a needless crisis. AFSCME will join with all unions that represent Illinois state employees in seeking to override the veto.

Check out this video to learn more about what is at stake.


AFSCME Texas Corrections Mourn Fallen Officer

TELFORD, Texas – Corrections Officer Timothy Davison, the victim of an attack by a prisoner at the prison unit here in Bowie County, was laid to rest July 25 amid an outpouring of support for the Davison family from his Corrections family. 

Officer Davison, 47, succumbed July 15 to injuries suffered when a prisoner serving a life sentence for robbery and aggravated assault attacked him with an iron bar. Davison is survived by his two daughters.

“It’s hard for us to know that Officer Davison put on his uniform in the morning and did not come home; it’s even harder for his family,” said Cathe Wilson, president of the AFSCME Gatesville local. “As a Corrections Officer, I believe we come in together and we leave together; it’s always hard when that doesn’t happen. I wish the family strength and peace during this time. We are here to support them in any way we can.”

The services included Corrections Officers from all over the country, from as far away as California. Condolences and donations for his family can be left at the Officers Down Memorial Page. Words of comfort and prayer may be sent to afscme.texas.corrections@gmail.org.

The details surrounding the fatal incident are currently under review by the state of Texas, but many believe that short staffing played a role. Texas Corrections has nearly 3,000 vacancies it is trying to fill throughout the state.


Walker’s No Harley Guy

Scott Walker, the anti-union governor from Wisconsin, has made the union-made Harley-Davidson motorcycle a centerpiece of the first tour of his presidential campaign.

How ironic is that? Walker, whose entire presidential campaign is based on touting his attacks on collective bargaining for tens of thousands of Wisconsinites, is campaigning with an iconic piece of American machinery adorned with a label that reads "Union made in the USA."

Like many politicians before him, Walker apparently wants to show that he’s a regular Harley guy, a rider of the All-American motorcycle. But he is the last person who should be burnishing his patriotic credentials riding a Harley.

In fact, Walker’s political record indicates that he has no regard for the story of the iconic American machine and the hardworking union men and women who build them. Instead of praising union workers for turning out some of the best motorcycles in the world, Walker recently compared union workers and their families to ISIS terrorists.

What Walker fails to note, as Reuters reports, is that Harley-Davidson’s relationship with its union employees – certainly not without tribulation at times – has been hailed as a model of workplace cohesion that facilitates better production quality and output. He also fails to acknowledge the hardworking and skilled members of the Machinists (IAM) and United Steelworkers (USW) who helped prevent the company from going under during the Great Recession.

Union workers are calling Walker on his cynical use of the Harley as a campaign prop.  A politician who attacks union workers and other working Americans should not be using the fruits of their labor to score political points. The only reason Walker can ride his Harley in the first place is because they built it. 

Harley’s unionized workforce is among the most skilled in the industry, and their craftsmanship is central part the production of a motorcycle that is synonymous with American quality. Watch the video.


AFSCME Strong Bus Driver on Board

Corey Upchurch and his family came up in transportation.

His father was a manager at the Department of Transportation of the Washington, DC, Office of the State Superintendent of Education. He worked there for 32 years. His mother started out as a bus attendant, moved to dispatch, and then worked as routing and scheduling manager. She, too, had a long career in transportation.

His brother, Andrew Washington, started his career in transportation back in 1992. Now he is the executive director of AFSCME Council 20.

“Transportation came home to our dinner table every night, as I was coming up,” Upchurch says.

Upchurch, 36, is a school bus driver in Washington, DC, his hometown. He started his career in 1999, and became active with his union, AFSCME Local 1959, as an organizer. He’s also a Volunteer Member Organizer. Local 1959 is composed of bus drivers and attendants in DC Public Schools. Upchurch moved up to shop steward, chief shop steward, vice president, and recently became president of his local. He’s also AFSCME Strong.

After taking the AFSCME Strong training in Maryland in April, Upchurch has been busy. He says he’s used the summer months, when most kids are on vacation, to talk to his coworkers and apply AFSCME Strong in the workplace. He found a positive response. In three days, he signed up 49 individuals as PEOPLE contributors and got 94 to sign AFSCME Strong cards.

“I basically used the opportunity, with the help of shop stewards, to have conversations with my coworkers,” Upchurch says. “When the drivers are sitting around waiting to bid on their routes, I talked to them about what we need to do to make our union stronger.”

Upchurch says his biggest challenge is educating his coworkers about the vicious attacks they’re facing together as a union.

“My strategy is to try to educate them, try to get them to understand what we’re about, what AFSCME is about,” he says. “And what’s going on in other states, with the Koch brothers, with Scott Walker, and all the billionaires trying to downsize unions. I tell them about the Supreme Court, and the case involving union dues (Friedrichs v. California Teachers Association). They’re trying to weaken our union.”

Upchurch says the AFSCME Strong strategy is working.

“I’m extremely happy with the response,” he says. “It’s been a huge response. I mean, we’re a rowdy local as it is, but when it’s time to stand up they’re willing to do that. They’re not scared to stand up for what’s best for unions overall.”

Upchurch, who lives in DC with his three children, says he’s always wanted to be a voice and make a difference in his workplace.

“I have a very strong passion in what I do,” he says. “I’m still learning, but I feel as though I am making a difference in my workplace, in my local. It’s all about the membership.”


Kentucky COs Earn Raises, Respect

Kentucky corrections officers earned hefty pay increases and bonuses from an administration concerned about retaining and attracting good employees willing to perform the dangerous work.

Faced with turnover rates as high as 67 percent, Gov. Steve Beshear approved a plan to stabilize the workforce that raises pay for security staff; provides 40-hour workweeks for institutional hazardous duty, non-security staff; and implements a monthly stipend for members of the correctional emergency response teams, or CERT.

AFSCME pushed hard for the increased pay, which put Kentucky more in line with surrounding states’ compensation rates.

“This increase is nice, but it’s still not enough. Corrections officers in Kentucky risk their lives every day, but the state ranks 49th in pay for the work they do,” said Debbie Garcia, executive director of the Indiana/Kentucky Organizing Committee Council 962. “But for many COs this is too little too late. Many veteran COs haven’t had a raise in six years and workplace shortages remain an epidemic.”

Under the new wage structure, the starting salary for corrections officers will be increased by 13.1 percent, raising the entrance pay from $23,346 to $26,400, with higher increases for sergeants, lieutenants and captains.

The new structure also sets across-the-board salary increases for existing staff, and will affect security staff at the Kentucky Correctional Psychiatric Center near LaGrange, which is run by the Cabinet for Health and Family Services.

The 40-hour workweek for all institutional hazardous duty, non-security staff moves them from their current 37.5-hour schedule – the equivalent of a 6.7 percent increase in compensation.

CERT members, who respond to incidents, riots, cell extractions, mass searches or disturbances in prisons, will receive a $50 monthly maintenance stipend.

“Our corrections staff work under stressful, dangerous conditions, and as our economy improves, it's understandable that many seek opportunities in less hazardous environments,” Governor Beshear said.

Hopefully, these raises will help stem the tide of such high turnover and provide Kentucky’s COs with a new level of respect on the job.


Atlanta Workers Speak Up, Win Raises

ATLANTA – The City Council voted overwhelmingly July 21 to approve a 3.5 percent pay increase for approximately 3,000 Atlanta city workers in public works, corrections, and parks and recreation, among other city services.

AFSCME Local 1644 members were active in City Council speak-ins, and direct conversations with Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed, reminding them of the vital services that city employees provide.

“We make the city of Atlanta work, ensuring that the city is a clean, safe and enjoyable place to work and live in,” Local 1644 member Tracy Thornhill told the Council. “We deserve a pay raise that lets us know that the city and our community recognize our work.” 

Mayor Reed spoke up in favor of the pay raise. “The city of Atlanta is in the strongest financial position in more than a decade,” he said. “Because of this financial stability, our hard-working employees will take home a paycheck that reflects their contributions and accomplishments.”

The pay raise is retroactive to July 1, and members should receive the increase in their August paychecks.  The last significant pay raise occurred several years ago.

 


Jeb Bush: ‘Phase Out Medicare’

As Medicare celebrates its 50th anniversary July 30, the popular program continues to provide quality, affordable health care to seniors. It also is in its strongest fiscal shape in years thanks to the Affordable Care Act.

So why does Republican Presidential candidate JEB! Bush want to “phase out this program?” That’s what he proposed July 23 at an event sponsored by the Koch brothers’ Americans for Prosperity in Manchester, New Hampshire, where he praised proposals by Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) to turn Medicare into a voucher program.

Watch the video for yourself!

Retirees like Dave Jacobsen, president of the Northwest Florida AFSCME Retiree Subchapter 43, are scratching their heads trying to figure out what Bush is talking about.

“Costs are going up on almost everything, but we know that things would be much worse if we didn’t have Medicare to keep us healthy,” said Jacobsen, a former employee of Florida’s Department of Health. “Medicare is one of the most successfully run health programs in the history of the world and I appreciate President Johnson for signing the legislation 50 years ago.”

The former Florida governor appears to be completely out of touch – from saying people “need to work longer hours” if they want to earn enough to get by to misrepresenting President Obama’s proposals to expand overtime pay so severely that leading economists said he “should be embarrassed.” And this new Medicare statement only underscores his confusion.

“Medicare is a right earned by every American for a lifetime of hard work and I will organize every senior in north Florida to educate them on Bush’s Medicare proposals,” said Jacobsen. “We here remember too well how he ran our state into the ground as governor and we all know what his brother did to our country so we can’t let it happen again.”

 

 


Survey: Pope’s Economic Message Resonates Here

An overwhelming majority of religiously affiliated U.S. voters agree with Pope Francis’s message on equality and economic justice, including the Pope’s view that our economy is out of balance because of inequality and injustice, and that we must make changes so that “everyone benefits from the fruits of the Earth.”

This finding is part of a recent survey among voters who describe themselves as religious that was conducted by Lake Research Partners ahead of Pope Francis’s visit to the United States. The nationwide survey among likely 2016 voters, conducted on behalf of a coalition of labor unions and faith organizations, reveals that the Pope’s message of togetherness, community, inclusion and equality resonates with the American electorate.

“The Pope’s strong voice on these issues will likely prove catalytic to the conversation regarding a broader values debate and a family-friendly economic agenda,” wrote Celinda Lake and Joshua Ulibarri, of Lake Research Partners. “At a time when Americans are having incredibly important conversations around strengthening families, making the economy work for our families, and racism, among other issues, the Pope’s message rejects division and instead calls on Americans to embrace the values of inclusion, community and the Golden Rule (do unto others as we would have them do unto us).”

Religiously affiliated voters reject the prevailing economic view that “we are in this alone,” the survey found. Instead, these voters embrace the notion that “millions of struggling workers, seniors, the sick and the weak are NOT alone.” Furthermore, they agree with the Pope that “we must act in terms of community,” and they support an agenda that creates a family-friendly economy.

More specifically, 87 percent of survey respondents support guaranteeing earned paid sick time for recovery from injury or illness, or to help a family member recover; 80 percent support making major investments in children and poverty that include early education and child health care, even if it means increasing their taxes; and 62 percent support raising the minimum wage to $15 an hour to help workers sustain their families.

A full 84 percent agreed with this message: “Our economy is tough on our families, from wages, to hours, to discrimination…. We need to fight for work, and for dignified work. If people work hard, they ought to earn enough to sustain their families. We can change our community for the better so that the economic system values people over profits.”

And 79 percent agreed with this: “There is so much inequality and injustice that our economy is out of balance. Too few people benefit from the wealth in our society…. We need to change our economy so that everyone benefits from the fruits of the Earth and we promote fairness and dignity for everyone.”

The Pope’s visit to the United States is likely to focus attention on many of these issues, which are part of a long overdue national conversation.


Act 10 Creates Corrections Crisis in Wisconsin

In 2010, Wisconsin’s Department of Corrections (DOC) boasted near full employment with well-trained, experienced corrections officers who considered the job a career and earned a fair wage with good benefits.

Then came Governor Walker’s Act 10. The law stripped COs and all state employees of the ability to bargain with management over wages and benefits.

Today, Wisconsin’s DOC is desperate. It faces record retirements, more than 400 vacancies to fill, forced overtime, record overtime costs of $9.3 million and nearly $12 million in sick time costs. As a result, Wisconsin communities are less safe today.

“For the DOC and for COs, the situation is bad and getting worse,” said Mike Fox, interim executive director of AFSCME Council 32, which represents corrections officers. “Vacancies are growing, and the state can't hire replacements fast enough to keep up.”

Before passage of Act 10, having a strong voice on the job kept morale and professional pride high. An employee survey conducted by the DOC last year found 82 percent cited ‘staff morale’ as the most pressing issue. Some 52 percent raised a red flag about staff retention and 45 percent cited staff safety and wellness as a most pressing issue.

Pay for state COs has fallen sharply and employee costs for benefits keep going up. Neighboring states and many county jails are paying better than the state of Wisconsin.

Iowa’s starting wage is $18.02. In Illinois, the trainee salary is $20.57 an hour. COs in both states have a union contract. In Wisconsin, a CO’s starting pay is $15.34 an hour. Starting pay in Wisconsin’s Brown County jail is $19.11 and $21.18 an hour in Outagamie County.

In 2010, there were only 88 CO vacancies across 21 adult correction facilities in Wisconsin. Now there’s five times that number. These jobs are no longer considered careers for well-trained corrections professionals and are treated as a stepping-stone job until they can find something better, according to Fox.

“Low salaries, dangerously short-staffed prisons, fewer experienced correctional officers, more inexperienced recruits, short-staffing, low morale and mandatory overtime are not the ingredients to attract and sustain a qualified workforce,” said Fox. “Or for a safe and effective prison system that protects Wisconsin’s communities.”


Thousands of Protesters Greet ALEC

SAN DIEGO – Thousands marched against the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) during the opening day of its annual meeting. It was one of the largest protests ever against the right-wing organization, featuring elected officials, workers, community activists, faith-based leaders and other progressives.

“Today we refused to allow the actions of a group of anti-worker billionaires that push laws to make the rich richer on the backs of hardworking families go unnoticed,” said Jesse Torres, a home care provider with AFSCME’s United Domestic Workers (UDW).

ALEC is a corporate-funded group of nearly 2,000 extremist state lawmakers who use ALEC’s cookie-cutter approach to draft legislation that weakens unions, throws up roadblocks to voting and promotes “Stand Your Ground” gun laws.

The annual ALEC conference brings together hundreds of corporate lobbyists and wealthy funders from around the country to wine and dine the lawmakers. Legislators are promised hefty contributions in exchange for support of state laws that weaken worker and environmental protections, eviscerate public education and punish immigrant families.

“All of us here today are committed to building the middle class and lifting families out of poverty, and ALEC is here to do the exact opposite!” added Torres.

Other speakers included Yessika Magdaleno, a child care provider from Orange County who is part of a statewide coalition campaigning to pass legislation aimed at improving California’s child care system by giving working women and providers a greater voice and collective bargaining rights.

"ALEC's anti-worker agenda harms our workforce, which is mostly women, as well as the hardworking families who depend on us to care for their children,” Magdaleno said. “Let’s continue to work together toward a quality child care program in California – because unlike ALEC, we support hardworking families, and women!"

After listening to community and labor activists decry ALEC’s negative impact on middle-class families, the massive crowd marched to the doorstep of the conference to ensure their message was heard.


Challenging ‘Political’ Supreme Court

If the Supreme Court makes a partisan ruling in Friedrichs v. California Teachers Association, undermining the ability of public sector workers to band together on the job, it would further manipulate the political system against working families, Harold Meyerson writes in his Washington Post column July 22.

In June, the Supreme Court decided to hear the Friedrichs case, which seeks to overturn a unanimous 1977 decision that strengthened the ability of nurses, librarians, corrections officers and other public service workers to have a say at work.

Meyerson, also the editor-at-large of The American Prospect, said a ruling to overturn the long standing precedent could “create a long-term advantage for their party over the Democrats. Such a ruling would be worse than the court’s decision in Bush v. Gore, which essentially decided only the one election, and “could decide elections for years to come.”

For public service workers though, the case is about much more than politics. “If my coworkers and I come together and have a collective voice on the job, we can advocate for better patient care, better training and equipment, and safe staffing levels,” said AFSCME member Kelly Druskis-Abreu, a mental health worker from Worcester, Massachusetts. “This is about all of us.”

 


VIDEO: Bad Bosses Working Overtime

Jeb Bush says we need to work longer hours. Scott Walker says the minimum wage is “lame” and signed a budget that eliminates the weekend. Marco Rubio says we need to run the country according to what business says it needs. Donald Trump says … well, “you’re fired!”

AFSCME’s new video puts these bad-boss ideas promoted by candidates for President into the context of bad bosses we know and hate in modern culture. Why are these rich politicians picking on American workers anyway?

The reality is that Americans work more hours than any other workers on earth. According to the International Labor Organization, Americans work 137 more hours per year than Japanese workers, 260 more hours per year than British workers, and 499 more hours per year than French workers.

In fact, the Gallop Poll last year found that the average workweek for salaried and wage-earners is now 47 hours, well beyond the 40-hour workweek proscribed in the Fair Labor Standards Act, which requires that employers pay overtime for work beyond 40 hours.

Employers have managed to get around the overtime provisions by paying set weekly salaries, instead of hourly wages, since only salaried workers earning less than $23,660 a year qualify for overtime under the current FLSA rule. That standard is so low that only 8 percent of salaried workers qualify for overtime, compared with 65 percent of salaried workers who qualified in 1975.

President Obama proposed a rule change that would raise the limit on overtime pay to $50,440, which would cover 11 million more salaried workers now being forced to work beyond 40 hours without overtime pay. It’s a long overdue change that will put more money into the hands of working families and, thus, improve the U.S. economy.

Naturally, we can expect a fight from all the bad bosses out there doubling as Presidential candidates. But you can weigh in on the side of workplace justice. Let the Department of Labor know that you support the rule change by clicking this link to send a message.

Send a message to the bad bosses: We work hard for the money. Pay up!


Texas Legislative Success Draws New Members

PALESTINE, Texas - With two major legislative wins under its belt, AFSCME Texas Corrections Employees launched a full-scale organizing campaign across the state.  Ten different locals are involved in the campaign, along with AFSCME International organizers. 

Recently, corrections officers and employees received one of the largest pay increases in Texas Corrections history.  This victory, combined with members’ ability to push back a payroll deductions bill during the legislative session, has many nonunion workers sitting up and taking notice. AFSCME’s Texas Corrections Employees gained more than 1,000 new dues-paying members between January and May of this year. The legislative session ended June 1. 

The organizing blitz to build membership started on July 10 and will run through July 27.  Targeted areas include Gatesville, Palestine, Angleton, Abilene and Lubbock.  In just three days, activists have signed up nearly 50 new members and had more than 120 one-on-one conversations, identifying the concerns of corrections employees.

Corrections Officer Amimbda Ajayi joined the union and signed up as an AFSCME PEOPLE MVP because “the union is about people coming together,” she said.  “It’s a group thing.  We can do it together. Winning our raise was one thing we did together, but there is so much more we can accomplish!”

Richard Salazar, president of Local 3806, said the organizing success shows what can be accomplished with one-on-one conversations. “I know that people want to get involved,” he said. “They just need that extra push. Having someone stop by and have a personal conversation may be all someone needs to commit to being a union member.”


Contract Win at Vermont’s HowardCenter

More than 13 months of intensive contract negotiations has yielded a lucrative new contract for AFSCME members working at Vermont's HowardCenter, a nonprofit social services organization. Members of Local 1674 voted overwhelmingly June 30 to ratify the contract, paving the way for long overdue pay increases for the workers.

"It's heartening to know that the wages of our members at the HowardCenter are finally beginning to match the quality of the critical services they provide," said AFSCME Council 93 Exec. Dir. Frank Moroney, also an AFSCME International vice president. "These skilled and dedicated workers work hard every day to provide quality care to some of the most vulnerable members of society. We're pleased we were able to bring them this long-overdue recognition and we look forward to continuing to build the strength and power of Local 1674." 

Under the new agreement, current employees who were employed at the HowardCenter on or after Nov. 1, 2013, will receive a 2 percent increase to their base salary. In addition, workers will receive a 2.6 percent retroactive increase for the period Aug 1, 2014, through June 30, 2015. They also received an additional 2 percent increase, effective July 1.

Some staff will receive additional pay increases or bonuses, depending on licenses they hold, the shifts they work, the length of time they've worked at the center, and other factors. In addition, workers who use their automobiles for their jobs will now also receive reimbursement at the non-taxable per mile rate set annually by the IRS.

The road to the contract agreement was long and difficult and included several demonstrations aimed at calling attention to the extremely low wages paid to the workers. The union also organized a public informational forum at Burlington City Hall that drew more than 150 supporters and was attended by Moroney and AFSCME Pres. Lee Saunders.

After months of pressure, the union also received the backing of Burlington City Councilors who passed a nonbinding resolution in May urging the Howard Center to pay workers a living wage. These and other efforts were bolstered by a Council 93 paid radio advertising campaign and other media relations strategies.


Netroots Nation, Meet AFSCME Strong

PHOENIX, Ariz. – When Netroots Nation, the annual political conference for progressive bloggers, newsmakers and activists from across the country, assembled here July 16-19, AFSCME used the opportunity to share strategies and introduce AFSCME Strong

An AFSCME-sponsored panel on unions as the answer to the problem of income inequality attracted a passionate crowd eager to hear how labor will organize a winning movement in the face of corporate-funded attacks. Seema Nanda, an assistant to Secretary of Labor Thomas Perez, opened the discussion by declaring, “The labor movement is one of the last counter-balances to a system that corporate interests have rigged against working families, in favor of the rich.”

The panel also included: Neera Tanden, president of Center for American Progress; U.S. Rep. Raul Grijalva (D-Ariz.); Naomi Walker, assistant to the president of AFSCME; and Frank Piccioli, president of AFSCME Local 2960.

Piccioli reflected on the impact unions played on his family. “When my father suffered second- and third-degree burns, it was our union that had our backs,” he said. “I don’t know where I would be without the continued support and benefits unions bargain for — for all workers.”

Walker told conference participants about AFSCME Strong, the intensive campaign to strengthen our union by engaging members in one-on-one conversations about our future.  

“AFSCME members are going on the offensive,” Walker said. “We’re facing down attacks from corporate-funded politicians with renewed grassroots energy from our membership. The renewed activism in our union is already creating results. AFSCME has organized over 140,000 new members since last year — even in right-to-work states.” 

Among the speakers were Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) and two candidates running in the Democratic presidential primary: Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and former Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley. The presidential town hall featuring O’Malley and Sanders was interrupted by civil rights activists intent on bringing national attention to the issues of racial inequality and law enforcement treatment of the black population.


VIDEO: Cab Driver Advocates Successfully Defend Fellow Drivers

CHICAGO – Piloting a new program based on AFSCME Council 31’s steward training last spring, Cab Drivers United/AFSCME’s “Driver Advocate” program has produced results for Chicago cab drivers. More than half of the tickets have been dismissed outright because of the union’s efforts.

“When I first got the ticket, I felt so bad,” said Taiwo Iyiola, a new member of Cab Drivers United/AFSCME. “I immediately called Cab Drivers United, and I showed them the ticket, and they told me not to worry, they are going to go with me to 400 West Superior,” where the drivers must navigate a cumbersome court system after receiving a ticket.  

Many cab drivers call 400 West Superior a “kangaroo court” because of confusing rules and regulations, on top of coercive prosecutors that pressure drivers to settle without a hearing, regardless of guilt or wrongdoing.

Iyiola said that Cab Drivers United/AFSCME “came inside with me, and at the end of the day, the judge told me he is going to dismiss the case, which he did. I was so impressed that the Cab Drivers United/AFSCME were able to fight for me.”

Besides tickets dismissed outright, others were amended so that fines were reduced, thanks to AFSCME’s Driver Advocate program.

“When the police give you the ticket, you just pay what you are supposed to pay,” added Iyiola.  “But when you are in the union, when you have any problem, go straight to the union. The union will tell you, ‘This is what you are supposed to do, this is not what you are supposed to do.’”


California = No-ALEC Zone

SAN DIEGO – As the right-wing American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) and its corporate allies assemble here this month, they will be met by thousands of demonstrators sending a message that “California is a no-ALEC zone.”

“ALEC works to pass laws that make the lives of Americans harder,” said Doug Moore, executive director of AFSCME’s United Domestic Workers and also an AFSCME International vice president. “We do things differently here in California; we are raising the minimum wage, protecting our families, educating our children and respecting the rights of all Californians.”

ALEC for decades has created anti-worker “model” legislation, including the “right to work” scam, and building a network of right-wing state legislators who want to slash wages, cut retirement, weaken health and safety, harm the environment, and destroy the middle class.

Thousands of workers, community groups, faith-based leaders, and progressives will gather together at the site of ALEC’s conference to make it clear they are not welcome in California.

 “We are coming together to let ALEC know that their harmful agenda isn’t wanted here, and so that we can let other American families know we stand with them,” Moore said. “Together we can ensure ALEC and their allies do not have power here.”

NBC’s Atlanta affiliate recently exposed ALEC for its secret dealing with Georgia legislators. A panel will be held the day following the rally to discuss how such deals can hurt working families and our communities. 

Here's a funny edited look as well at ALEC's newest promotional video. 


Oregon AFSCME Pushes Reform for All Workers

Oregon Gov. Kate Brown on July 14 signed into law a groundbreaking package of workplace and retirement legislation that could serve as a model for other states. The new laws, strongly supported by AFSCME Council 75 and a broad community coalition, provides:

  • Mandatory paid sick days for employees.
  • A state-managed retirement system open to all residents.
  • A prohibition against employers considering a job applicant’s conviction history during the initial hiring stages.
  • A requirement for reporting profiling complaints to the Law Enforcement Contacts and Data Review Committee.

“I’m very proud that our union had a role in fighting to bring statewide benefits that most of our members already enjoy,” said Karen Williams, AFSCME Council 75 political action chair. “It was really clear that we were in this fight for everyone in the community, and that’s how it should be. I couldn’t be more proud of our fight to expand these benefits and to help improve everyone’s work life.”

AFSCME Council 75 and other labor organizations joined with a coalition of faith and community groups to form the Fair Shot for All Coalition, lobbying collectively to pass the historic legislative package.

The work of AFSCME Council 75 and its allies perfectly illustrates the important role the labor movement plays in improving working conditions for everyone, regardless of their union status. Where unions are strong, wages are higher, more people have health insurance, and fewer people live in poverty

 


Iowa Corrections Managers Cost Taxpayers

Dozens of Iowa community-based corrections managers are taking advantage of an improper loophole to gain up to an extra week of vacation – and what amounts to an additional two weeks of additional sick time – a violation of state rules that has cost taxpayers more than $1 million in the past five years, according to a recent report by the Iowa Auditor’s office.

The state’s 1st, 5th and 6th judicial district departments of correctional services have been awarding as much as 40 percent more vacation to managers than allowed, and the 1st and 6th districts have been awarding as much as 67 percent more sick leave to managers than other districts that abided by maximum state limits, the report said. Two other districts, the 7th and 8th, were found to have improperly classified some managers as field staff, which boosted their vacation accrual.

Officials in those districts thought state maximum limits for vacation and sick leave did not apply to them because they did not consider themselves to be state employees, the audit said. However, the limits do apply because the officials participate in the state’s sick leave insurance program, according to the auditor’s report.

“At a time when Iowa’s entire correctional system, including our prisons and community-based corrections, is severely understaffed, it is highly disturbing to find out about these excessive vacation and sick leave benefits for management employees,” said Danny Homan, president of AFSCME Iowa Council 61, the union representing these district’s employees. Homan is also an AFSCME International vice president.

The rank-and-file workers covered by the AFSCME contract who work to help offenders successfully return to society do not receive this perk; it’s exclusive to management.

The 1st District Department of Correctional Services (DCS), covering 11 counties in the northeast section of the state, has refused to make changes even though the district is set to lay off two community program monitor workers and eliminate a third parole/probation officer position.

The district’s director, Karen Herkelman, contends that any changes in leave accruals would have minimal impact on payout in the current fiscal year and would not prevent layoffs. However, Herkelman has a conflict of interest: she is set to retire July 31 and will likely receive excessive vacation and sick leave payout if no changes are made before then.

“The only reasonable reaction to the auditor’s report is to stop awarding these excessive benefits and remove excessively awarded leave from manager’s sick and vacation leave accounts,” Homan said. “The state auditor has said these management perks are improper. Not one penny should be spent on these improper perks, especially when layoffs are occurring.”


AFSCME’s Enemies Look to the Supreme Court

The U.S. Supreme Court agreed to hear Friedrichs v California Teachers Association, a case with the potential to make “right-to-work” the law of the land in the public sector and undermine workers’ right to collectively bargain over wages, benefits and working conditions.

If you've got questions about the case, we've got answers:

Q: What is this case about?

A:  This case is about making Right to Work the law of the land in the entire public sector. If the extremists are successful our right to collectively bargain over wages, benefits and working conditions would be greatly damaged. Since the Supreme Court first spoke on this subject more than 35 years ago, nurses, librarians, corrections officers and other public service workers have been able to work together for better public services and vibrant communities. In other words, Friedrichs is really about reneging on a fundamental promise of America — that if you work hard and play by the rules you should be able to provide for your family and live a better life – and that those rules shouldn’t just change.

Q: How would our Councils and Locals be affected?

A:  If the Supreme Court overturns the unanimous 1977 Supreme Court decision called Abood v Detroit Board of Education, which upheld the payment of “fair share fees” by nonmembers for their share of the cost of their representation, it would mean that every state in the country would be a “right-to-work” state for all public service employees. But don’t be fooled. This is not really a case about union dues. It’s a case meant to bust the ability of unions to bargain effectively for the workers they represent.

Q. How would workers be affected?

A: The ability of nurses, librarians, emergency first responders and other public service workers to negotiate effectively with their employer would be harmed. On average, workers in Right-to-Work states earn nearly $6,000 less than what workers in strong union states earn.

Q: What happens if the Court rules against us?

A:  This could lead to a severely weakened union and, in turn, lower pay and benefits for workers. That’s why our AFSCME Strong activists are working hard to sign up fair share payers to be full-fledged members.

Q: When is the decision likely to be issued?

A: Legal briefs will be filed through the Fall, and we expect the Court to hear the case by the end of 2015 or early next year. A decision could come as early as March or April and as late as June 2016, during the primary election season. It will be a political issue for our enemies, to be sure.

Q: What do we do in the meantime?

A. We step up our AFSCME Strong program to strengthen our union. The AFSCME Strong team created a program for our leadership and entire membership to follow to build our union. We should start by holding one-on-one conversations with members, fee payers and nonmembers across the country and engaging them in fights around issues they care about.

You can start by attending an AFSCME Strong activist training where you will gain organizing skills and develop a plan of action to help your local meet the following goals:

  • Recruit 5 percent of the membership to become fellow AFSCME Strong activists.
  • Engage 80 percent of your membership in one-on-one conversations on what is at stake, and involve them in the fights and activities.
  • Help your local achieve 90 percent union membership in fair share units, 70 percent membership in right-to-work units with collective bargaining, and majority membership in right-to-work units without collective bargaining.
  • Become a PEOPLE MVP contributor and help recruit 10 percent of your local’s membership to contribute.

For more information on getting involved, please contact your council or affiliate and ask for the AFSCME Strong Coordinator or contact Sabeela Ally (sally@afscme.org (202 429-1013), who can direct you to the right person.


Black Women: Labor Resource in Waiting

Black women join unions at higher rates than all other women, yet they are “the most underutilized leadership resource in the U.S. labor movement,” says a recent report by the Institute for Policy Studies.

And Still I Rise: Black Women Labor Leaders’ Voices, Power, Promise,” profiles several women who achieved leadership positions within their unions.

The report was the focus of a recent reception and panel discussion at the AFL-CIO, which is exhibiting photos of the profiled women.

The report includes a January 2015 national survey of 467 black women, representing more than 35 unions and the AFL-CIO. Fewer than 3 percent of them held elected positions and fewer than 20 percent held senior staff positions at a director level or higher.

Only 23 percent of the respondents said the feminist movement represents the interests of black women. Almost half said a glass ceiling prevents them from “growth and promotion” in the labor movement.

“This leadership gap for black women is a detriment to the growth and survival of unions,” wrote the authors, Kimberly Freeman Brown and Marc Bayard. Furthermore, they said, it could mean that organizing black women “will not be a high priority for the labor movement.”

The labor movement is not alone underrepresenting black women as managers and leaders. In corporations, black women hold only 5.3 percent of managerial and professional positions, according to the Center for American Progress and Catalyst.

While black women may have mentors at work, those mentors often don’t use their influence to advocate on their behalf, the report concludes. “And those are exactly the types of mentors women need to advance their careers.”

Recommendations of the report include creating a “pipeline project”  to recruit black labor women to key staff positions and boards of directors; expanding existing mentorship programs and creating new opportunities; positioning black labor women as strategists in the media; and creating collaborative organizing projects between labor, community groups and organizations focused on black women.

Two of the 27 women profiled in  the report are members of the AFSCME family: Arlene Holt Baker, retired executive vice president of the AFL-CIO and former AFSCME organizer and area director in California; and Alice Goff, president of AFSCME District Council 36 and L.A. City Clerical and Support Employees (AFSCME Local 3090)

“There is great promise for the future of the labor movement to grow stronger if it utilizes the intellect, the organizing skills, the political skills, the bargaining power, and the leadership skills of more black women at every level of our movement,” said Holt Baker, who spoke at the reception.

Increasing the number of black women who are labor leaders is about justice as well as success, said AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka.

“The data says that organizing drives led by black women, and organizing black women, have the highest chances for success,” he said. “In fact, when black women use their collective voice to win, our entire society gets a lift.”

The AFL-CIO recently created the Labor Commission on Racial and Economic Justice to explore racial issues within the labor movement. In addition, the AFL-CIO earlier this month hosted the first in a series of 10 Race and the Labor Movement town halls, intended to be conversations on race and the role it plays in the lives of workers across the nation. 


Minnesota vs. Wisconsin: A Tale of Two States

For workers, economic fortunes follow elections of Dayton, Walker

For working people in Minnesota - recently named the "Top State For Business" - it is the best of times (at least in the last half decade). But in neighboring Wisconsin, it is the worst of times. To determine just why these Midwest states, both deeply invested in manufacturing and agricultural economics, have fared so differently, one only has to look to who they elected governor in 2010.

Facing a deep natural recession and a $6 billion budget deficit, Minnesotans voted in progressive Gov. Mark Dayton, who ran on a tax-the-rich platform that included investment in people and infrastructure.

Dayton pushed a sharp increase on taxes for the top 2 percent to pay for his plan. And soon he and legislators passed laws that expanded unionization, froze college tuition, increased the minimum wage, required equal pay for women, legalized same-sex marriage, eased voter restrictions, boosted primary education spending and established all-day kindergarten.

Wisconsinites went in a complete 180-degree direction. They elected Scott Walker, a firebrand conservative who announced this week that he is running for President.

Walker has repeatedly scapegoated public service workers while extolling the virtues of “trickle-down” economics and cutting his way to reducing the state’s $3 billion budget hole.

Walker also has cut taxes on the most wealthy, saying it would spur job creation and innovation. He and a Republican-controlled Legislature dismantled collective bargaining for public employees with Act 10. They also opposed a minimum-wage increase and equal-pay legislation, refused to expand Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act and, finally, passed the scam right-to-work law.

Five years later, only one governor has proven successful.

In Minnesota, Dayton turned that $6 billion budget deficit into a more than $2 billion surplus in just one term. Minnesota added 172,000 jobs and its 3.6 percent unemployment rate is among the lowest in the country.

Under Walker’s policies, Wisconsin still faces a $2 billion shortfall, has fallen to 44th in private-sector job creation and faces a 5.2 percent unemployment rate.

Minnesota has consistently been in the top tier of states for GDP growth since Dayton was elected and median incomes are $8,000 higher than the national average. In Wisconsin, median household income is thousands less than in Minnesota.

In 2015, Minnesota is considered one of the most business-friendly states in the country, with Forbes ranking it the ninth-best state for business, seventh in economic climate and second in quality of life. Thanks to Walker’s anti-worker policies, the cost of doing business in Wisconsin is now higher than the national average.

“In Minnesota, we’re doing better than our neighbors in the Badger state because our governor understands that good government works for all people, not just the rich,” said Eliot Seide, executive director of AFSCME Minnesota Council 5. “Under Governor Dayton, we know that everyone will get a fair shot, give their fair share, and play by the same rules. In Wisconsin, Governor Walker has only served the rich, so he hasn’t created an economy that works for working families.” 


Taking on Roaches and Winning in PortMiami

Rotted-out floors, windows that leaked – even termite, ant and roach infestations. These were the conditions that cashier booth attendants at Florida’s PortMiami, “cruise capital of the world,” dealt with every day. That is, they did until they decided they would stand up to management to demand changes.

They got them, thanks to the power of solidarity – and their union, AFSCME Local 199.

It wasn’t that easy, however. These PortMiami employees are all part-time workers, fearful of retaliation by management if they spoke up “because it could mean an impact on our hours,” said Melissa Spicer, a Miami-Dade County Seaport employee. “These were issues since before even I started working there (in 2008).”

Spicer said the poor working conditions within their toll booths, which included broken chairs and no electrical hookups to power air conditioning or even fans, “reflected how we were treated by management. They made sure the booths looked good from the outside but never spent money on fixing our problems.”

That was okay with management since the outside of the booths looked attractive to the cruise ship passengers who stopped at the toll booths to pay for their parking fees. But it was intolerable for the employees who had to work there. What could they do?

Not much, working alone. But then they realized that they could make a difference if they only stood up, together, as union members to demand that management fix the problem. To make sure management paid attention, they began a formal union grievance process. They also gave management another chance to do the right thing. 

This time, thanks to their united voice and the help of a fellow Local 199 member from the fire department that had started as a staff rep, Pete Ortiz, they got results.

The floors are now being fixed. Windows have been replaced. Pest control is now standard. Power is coming to all booths, and new chairs that were just sitting in storage are now helping these hard-working Local 199 members make it through the workday. A labor-management committee has been created to keep the good momentum going.

“Sometimes,” said Spicer, “you have to take a risk and see what is possible. We knew we were in this together and so did they – and that made all the difference.”

The success has even inspired more of the department’s employees to join the union. In fact, Local 199 membership at PortMiami has more than doubled.

AFSCME has never been stronger at PortMiami, now that the workers realize that they are the union and that, standing together, they are AFSCME Strong


AFSCME Pres. Lee Saunders Statement on the Senate Fast Track Vote

AFSCME Pres. Lee Saunders issued the following statement regarding the Senate’s vote to advance fast track legislation:

“It is unfortunate that the Senate sided with corporate interests over the American people by advancing legislation that will allow dangerous trade deals to be negotiated in secret. The past is prologue when it comes to American trade policy and fast track will only continue the terrible legacy of putting corporate profits ahead of American jobs, the environment, and our health care. We will now turn our focus to the deeply flawed Trans-Pacific Partnership agreement (TPP) and similar deals, which will open up vital public services to outsourcing. While this is a blow to working Americans, we will not give up the fight for transparency, fairness, and accountability in our country’s trade policies.”


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