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Posted By: Council 93
Last week the GIC Board of Commissioners voted once again to increase out-of-pocket costs for state and higher education employees by granting provisional approval to a series of increases, effective July 1, 2017. Our labor representatives on the board voiced strong opposition to these increases but due to an imbalance of management and worker representation on the GIC board, we were unsuccessful.

To prevent similar votes in the future and to try to offset increases in out-of-pocket costs, we are working in coalition with other public-sector unions on a series of legislative initiatives that would:

  • Increase our representation on the GIC board of commissioners to give us a stronger voice against management.
  • Provide premium relief by switching all workers to an 80%/20% premium cost split.
  • Allow our members to keep more of their hard-earned money by placing an annual cap on out-of-pocket costs related to healthcare.
We have already secured lead sponsors for these initiatives, which are divided into separate bills. We now need the help of our members as we work to build support for this legislation. Please take a few minutes right now to call your state representative and state senator and ask him or her to sign on as a co-sponsor to the following six bills:
Senate Docket Number 1220 - filed by Senator Ken Donnelly
House Docket Number 2935 - filed by Representative Dan Cullinane
These bills would provide us with additional representation on the Group Insurance Commission board, thereby reducing the chance of future increases to out-of-pocket costs.

Senate Docket Number 1228 - filed by Senator Ken Donnelly
House Docket Number 2848 – filed by Representative Paul Mark
These bills would equalize all state and higher education employees at an 80%/20% premium split

Senate Docket Number 668 – Filed by Senator James Timilty
House Docket Number 2867 – Filed by Representative Paul Mark
These bills would cap annual out-of-pocket expenses for workers on both individual and family plans.

You can identify your State Representative and State Senator and find their contact information by entering your address at this link.
You can also email Jim Durkin for help or call Jim anytime at 617-367-6012.

When you call your legislators, simply share how steady increases in health insurance costs have hurt you and your family. YOUR CALLS WILL MAKE A TREMENDOUS DIFFERENCE and are much more effective than sending an email. If you have any doubt, read this NY Times article on the impact calls to legislative offices make and how they motivate elected officials. PLEASE MAKE THE CALLS AS SOON AS POSSIBLE as the deadline to co-sponsor bills is rapidly approaching.

Posted By: Council 93

Imagine what you can achieve with the AFSCME Free College Benefit.

There are always points in your career — and your life — in which you want to move forward. You want to improve; you want to feel inspired and reach new goals. Perhaps you want to qualify for a promotion, finish your degree, or enrich your life through learning. Whatever your motivation, a quality education can be the catalyst to get you where you want to go.

It's AFSCME's mission to give you every advantage to get ahead. That's why we've partnered with Eastern Gateway Community College. Through the AFSCME Free College benefit, you and your family members can now earn an associate degree completely online–for FREE.

Eastern Gateway is an accredited community college, a member of the University System of Ohio, and is one of the fastest-growing public colleges in the country. It's an open access public college governed by the Ohio Board of Regents and accredited by the Higher Learning Commission. Click here to find out more today!

Posted By: Council 93

SJC decision means New Bedford must pay back wages for furloughs

By Aimee Chivaroli
New Bedford Standard Times

NEW BEDFORD - A Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court decision means the city will have to pay back employee wages from a 2009 furlough of City Hall workers.

In the wake of the 2008 economic collapse, former Mayor Scott Lang issued a 2009 executive order to close city offices at noon on Fridays, requiring City Hall workers to take unpaid furloughs. Due to the reduced hours, employees earned less money, according to a statement from the City Solicitor's office.

The union representing the city workers, the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) Council 93, challenged Lang's order. And in November 2011, the Commonwealth Employment Relations Board found the reduced work hours constituted an unfair labor practice.

"The SJC's decision exhausts the city's options for judicial appeal," stated the press release from spokeswoman Elizabeth Treadup Pio.

The city is now required to pay back municipal employees for wages lost because of the CERB decision, according to the city statement. The chief financial officer is "evaluating a number of potential funding sources" according to the release.

The amount the city owes is being determined and CFO Ari Sky said he could not give a ballpark estimate of how much the city might owe. He said he wanted to provide accurate information and that would take a few days to calculate.

Sky said an interest rate of .18 percent accrued on the back wages, which is equal to roughly $3,000 a year. He also identified two possible funding sources.
He said there is about $7.8 million in the stabilization or "rainy day" fund. Additionally, he said the state recently notified the city of $2.7 million available in "free cash," or a revenue source from unrestricted funds from operations in the previous fiscal year, that could be used if necessary. However, Sky said it has not yet been determined how the free cash funds will be used.

The CFO also said there are over 300 AFSCME members and the city needs to work with the union to figure out which members worked for the city at the time and had to take the furlough.
More Video: New Bedford Mayor Jon Mitchell talks about under construction Cove Walk where in long term city hopes to build park for the Cove neighborhood.

Former Mayor Lang said he does not regret the furlough and was glad he was able to save some jobs.
"I don't regret doing the furlough because it saved at the time...;between 66 and 89 AFSCME jobs," Lang said. "No one was looking forward to another massive layoff in the city of New Bedford."

Lang said he had laid off between 180 and 190 people in Feb. 2009 due to cuts in state aid which included AFSCME workers and police and fire personnel. "We had about six months in the year in which we had to make dramatic cuts," he said.

"I was looking for a way to save jobs," Lang said. "We were literally threadbare at that point with police and fire."

The former mayor said he wanted to keep a strong city workforce and not subcontract out for jobs. He also said he didn't want to raise taxes for people in the city. The furloughs ended in late June 2011.
Mayor Jon Mitchell in a written statement said that Lang's decisions left him in a difficult position.

"The City's 2009 decision to furlough city employees left my administration in a difficult legal position in fending off the union's challenge," Mitchell said. "I appreciate the diligent efforts of the City's legal team in fighting an uphill battle on behalf of the City's taxpayers."

Posted By: Council 93
We're proud of the work AFSCME members do to keep America's communities safe, clean, and healthy. So we're recognizing members who regularly demonstrate great pride and dedication to their work with the Never Quit Service Awards.

Do you have an AFSCME co-worker or friend who always takes great pride and goes the extra step in their work? Brings a smile to the faces of the people they serve or work with? Who never quits on doing the best job they can?

Fill out this form to nominate a fellow AFSCME member — or yourself — for a Never Quit Service Award.

Winners will have their stories featured on the Never Quit website and receive a certificate honoring their outstanding contribution to public service.
We can't wait to hear your story!

Posted By: Council 93
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Posted By: Zac Bears
From correctional officers to residential care workers, AFSCME members do some of the most dangerous jobs in Massachusetts. And that's why AFSCME Council 93 will continue fighting for fairness when it comes to death benefits for public service workers.

A recent study by MassLive highlighted the top 10 most dangerous jobs in Massachusetts based on how many days workers missed after an injury or other incident at work.

Currently, payments and benefits to families of public sector employees who are killed on the job are available only to public safety and law enforcement workers. Council 93 has filed legislation in the current session that would provide a $150,000 line-of-duty death benefit to the families of all public service workers who lose their lives as a result of "accident or injury" on the job.

John E. Lozada and Steve Hubbard
(Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons)

This work and our lobbying efforts led the state senate to include language in both the 2017 budget and recent veterans legislation that would provide the children of all public sector workers with free tuition, fees, room and board at any UMass campus, state college or community college. We will be filing similar legislation in all states in our jurisdiction.

Correctional institution workers, like corrections officers and other jail and prison staff, came in at number 10. In fact, there were 4 worker deaths at Bay State jails and prisons in 2014.

Workers at nursing and residential care facilities had the seventh most dangerous job in the state in 2014, missing almost 5 days of work per 100 employees due to on-the-job incidents.

Hospital, health care and social assistance workers had the third most dangerous job in Massachusetts in 2014. There were two deaths of hospital workers in 2014 and injuries at work caused health care workers to miss nearly 6 days of work per 100 employees.

A patient attacked AFSCME Local 72 member Jason Lew at a mental health facility on Cape Cod in 2012, causing serious injuries. Lew died weeks later, and his death was ruled a homicide. The only benefit his children received came through donations from his union brothers and sisters.

AFSCME members in other professions also face serious dangers at work.

Local 851 member Carlos Taberas was killed while working alone repairing a Bobcat in a City of New Bedford garage in 2011. Carlos had a big family – six kids. But there was no line-of-duty death benefit for them. His $5,000 life insurance policy didn't even cover funeral expenses.

"The union is simply asking the Legislature to recognize that when it comes to losing your life on the job, everyone is equal," Council 93 Legislative Director Jim Durkin argued in testimony before the Legislature. "Everyone has paid the same price."

Police officers and firefighters face serious risks on the job, but so too do correctional officers, direct care providers, mental health care workers, public works employees, highway workers and many other public service workers.

AFSCME members work some of the most dangerous jobs of anyone in Massachusetts, and extending line-of-duty death benefits to all public service workers is a simple matter of fairness.

Posted By: Zac Bears
This story is the first in an ongoing 'Visit Our State Parks' series, which explores the important work of AFSCME members at Department of Conservation and Recreation facilities across Massachusetts.

CHICOPEE, Mass. – Walking into the office at Chicopee State Park, the forest cabin smell and exposed wood framing instantly puts you in touch with nature.

The office, which serves as the hub of sophisticated daily park operations, is just a taste of what surrounds it. A step outside the door puts a visitor in the midst of hundreds of acres of pristine forest and lake shorelines that are enjoyed by tens of thousands of residents and tourists every year.

Access to this great natural resource would not be possible without the skills, experience and hard work of a relatively small crew of AFSCME Council 93 members in Local 2948 who work for the Department of Conservation and Recreation (DCR).

John E. Lozada and Steve Hubbard
AFSCME members John E. Lozada and Steve Hubbard at Chicopee State Park.
(Zac Bears/AFSCME Council 93)

For just an $8 daily parking fee, Massachusetts residents and tourists can access beaches, fishing, grilling, hiking, boating, mountain biking, picnicking, swimming and even cross-country skiing right in Chicopee, one of the largest cities in Western Massachusetts. For those who work up an appetite from all the activities, there's plenty of great spots for a barbecue and picnic too.

"It's a great opportunity to get outdoors. Where else can you bring your family for $8 for a whole day and enjoy the outdoors?" asked Steve Hubbard, an AFSCME member and Vice President of Local 2948. "Six Flags is $50 per person."

Hubbard, a DCR employee for 36 years and the Field Operations Team Leader for the area, is responsible for managing Chicopee State Park, three boat ramps on the Chicopee and Connecticut Rivers, three public pools, Robinson State Park in Agawam and Hampton Ponds State Park in Westfield.

Between the facilities, Hubbard works with six full-time year-round staff, 40 summer staffers in the parks and another 45 seasonal staff and lifeguards at the city pools.

It may not be apparent to everyone who visits the park, but a massive amount of well-coordinated, behind-the-scenes work ensures that parks open on time, stay open and provide a welcoming environment to the families who visit them.

"You have to get the buildings ready, make sure the water systems are running, perform regular beach inspections to ensure public safety and put out buoy lines for swimming," Hubbard said. "And that's all before you get to our day-to-day tasks, like cleaning up trash, maintaining bathrooms and working with the park visitors."

Hubbard says over 225,000 people visit the nearly 4,000 acres of parkland at these three locations every year. Upwards of 2,000 people can show up at Chicopee State Park on a busy summer Saturday. Most of the park visitors come from the nearby cities of Springfield, Holyoke and Chicopee, giving people a chance to get out of the city.

Beachfront at Chicopee State Park
Beachfront at Chicopee State Park. (Zac Bears/AFSCME Council 93)

Amazingly, these great locations represent only three of the 39 state parks and reservations in Western Massachusetts alone.

"From hiking at Mt. Greylock and swimming at Chicopee to hiking in the Berkshires and driving down to Cape Cod, we have so much to offer residents of Massachusetts," Hubbard said.

AFSCME members in Local 2948 aren't just responsible for making sure people have a good time. They have an important public safety role as well. They maintain the high-hazard dam that is a part of the park's watershed. Park workers have to keep an eye on the water level during storms because too much water could break the dam, which would destroy the water supply line for Chicopee and flood a major section of Interstate 90 (the Mass Turnpike).

"Public service is a great career, and I like to see people enjoying and respecting the DCR facilities," Hubbard said. "Helping people out is a great bonus as well. We have youth groups who do nature's classroom activities. It's great to make kids aware of the different aspects of nature."

Steve Raina
Steve Raina, AFSCME member and DCR recreation facilities supervisor.
(Zac Bears/AFSCME Council 93)

Hubbard reminds every visitor to any state park that it's important to pick up your trash and keep the park clean.

"It's your park," he said. "Take pictures and only leave footprints."

"We're an important aspect of society for the citizens of Massachusetts," Hubbard explained. "We provide such a significant service."

To find a Massachusetts State Park near you, click here.

Check your inbox and Council 93's website for more stories on the AFSCME members who make our state parks happen in July and August.

Posted By: Zac Bears
Karrie Kotfila wants you to know that being a school nurse goes far beyond putting band-aids on kids' scrapes and scratches. Just a few weeks ago, Nurse Kotfila instantly responded to shouts from down the hall and used an abdominal thrust, more commonly known as the Heimlich maneuver, to save a young boy who was choking during lunch.

Kotfila has been a nurse for 37 years and currently serves as the sole nurse at Murkland Elementary School in Lowell, Massachusetts and is a member of AFSCME Local 1705.

Lowell School Nurse Karrie Kotfila
Lowell School Nurse Karrie Kotfila. (Zac Bears/AFSCME Council 93)

She is responsible for over 530 students and staff at Murkland and provides daily medical care and health education to between 30 and 40 pre-kindergarten to fourth grade students.

"It's busy. They come to you right off the bus, and you're almost like their little clinic," Kotfila said. "They're little kids. They don't know."

There aren't too many serious incidents, like the choking incident, she said. But she is constantly assessing students and keeps inhalers and epi-pens for students with asthma and severe allergies.

Having a school nurse in the building is important, according to Kotfila, because untrained people often panic in serious situations such as when a person is choking or seriously injured in some way.

"You need to be right there because someone can go from breathing to not breathing very quickly," Kotfila said.

Recently, Kotfila was assessing two students in her office when she suddenly heard staff members yelling down the hall for her.

"I got the call and I literally ran," she said. "I say a prayer every time. 'God please be with me and help me make the right decision.' I say a prayer every day before work."

The incident happened right in the middle of lunch, and staff took the choking student out into the hall. Luckily, the other students didn't realize that their peer was in danger so they didn't panic, she said.

"I was really lucky," Kotfila explained, "because, when I did the abdominal thrust, I knew the child was okay. But I did have to make sure the parents took him to a pediatrician the same day."

Luckily, Kotfila had some experience with clearing airways when a person is choking—she performed an abdominal thrust on her son-in-law and once performed one on herself as well.

"I had to think quick, because otherwise you're going to pass out, and I ran and hit the kitchen counter," she recounted. "I was already seeing stars though."

These issues don't happen too often at any particular school, but there have been multiple incidents citywide this year. Nurses have had to perform CPR on children and staff. In one incident, nurses saved the life of a high school student whose heart stopped while he was sitting in class.

While she's responsible for any medical emergencies or health issues that occur at school, the most rewarding part of the job for Kotfila is educating the children on health and hygiene.

Karrie Kotfila
Nurse Karrie Kotfila with her students Damien Jackman, Nomar Garcia, Hermione Rivera, Antoine Jackman and Destiny Jackman. (Zac Bears/AFSCME Council 93)

"Yeah, anyone can put a band-aid on," she said. "But I'm teaching them about why they need to wash it, why they need to keep it clean. There's a lot that goes into each encounter. It's not just the physical part."

Kotfila explained that her school educates a lot of low-income students, and she can provide services that help children and their families. She has assisted non-English-speaking parents in learning how to use an epi-pen through an interpreter. She works through a program at UMass Lowell to provide resources like vacuum cleaners to mitigate environmental asthma triggers in the home. Just recently, she helped bring the "Vision Van" to Murkland so students could get free eye examinations, and she spent weeks before hand corralling permission from parents.

"That day we had 14-15 kids seen by the eye doctor," she explained. "That's just one program. It's a lot of work, but it helped 14 kids."

Kotfila also volunteers her time to provide a free yoga class to students before school in the morning. Ten third and fourth graders join her to practice yoga for 30 minutes in the morning. It's not a part of her job, she said, but she likes to do it and it helps her students build confidence.

"A lot of people don't understand what we do. They think we just put band-aids on," Kotfila explained. "We do a lot more than that. We do a lot of teaching and outreach."

The day before interviewing for this story, she went to the Lowell Diaper Bank to pick up diapers for a family that couldn't afford them. Kotfila didn't even know that Lowell had a diaper bank until recently.

Between the emergency response, routine medical care and useful health and hygiene education she provides to her students, Kotfila clearly plays an essential role in building a vibrant and healthy community.

"It's busy. We definitely need nurses in the schools."

Posted By: Zac Bears
MANCHESTER, N.H. – Samuel Mutungi's passion for running started during his sprints to and from school as a child in his home country of Kenya. Now, he channels that passion into running for a great cause.

Mutungi, a Hillsborough County corrections officer and AFSCME Local 3657 member, participated in the annual Law Enforcement Torch Run to support the Special Olympics of New Hampshire on June 2.

Hillsborough County Corrections Officer Samuel Mutungi
Corrections Officer Samuel Mutungi. (Zac Bears/AFSCME Council 93)

Guided by a police escort, Mutungi and almost 50 other runners glided on to the grounds of the Hillsborough County House of Corrections where James Kimball, a Special Olympics athlete for 36 years, told the runners how much help their support provides to the organization.

"The Special Olympics and law enforcement have a great relationship," Kimball said. "The Law Enforcement Torch Run always helps us fundraise for our summer games."

Mutungi participated in this leg of the run, which began at the Mall of New Hampshire in South Manchester and ended over 3 miles away at the House of Corrections. But Mutungi didn't stop there—he kept running all the way to Concord, N.H., almost 20 miles away.

A corrections officer for almost two years, Mutungi says the Torch Run has physical benefits for his sisters and brothers who are responsible for guarding potentially dangerous people.

"This helps morale and keeps us in good health," he explained. "The work we do is muscular, and this builds cardio strength."

He also said that the run shows the community that everyone stands together, especially for a cause as important as the Special Olympics.

"I used to run in Kenya, from primary school right through college," he said. "Every day I run six miles."

Chief Steward Steve Goldman said that AFSCME members have been participating in the torch run for almost 15 years.

Runners near the Hillsborough County House of Corrections
Runners approach the Hillsborough County House of Corrections in Manchester, N.H. on June 2.
(Zac Bears/AFSCME Council 93)

AFSCME members go above and beyond to help their community every day, and members like Samuel Mutungi show the important role public service workers play in their community.

"I encourage every corrections officer to participate every year," Mutungi said.

Posted By: Zac Bears
NASHUA, N.H. – An aggressive anti-privatization campaign by AFSCME Council 93 has led to a drastic shift away from support for the outsourcing of school custodian services in the city.

Just over eight months ago, members of the Nashua Board of Education voted unanimously in executive session to terminate their contract with AFSCME and pursue full privatization. Thanks to comprehensive education and public awareness efforts by AFSCME, we are now just one vote shy of defeating privatization and heading back to the table to negotiate a new contract.

Newly elected board members Howard Coffman and Doris Honensee have helped shift the board in the right direction. But the most dramatic turnaround has come from current board chair Sandra Ziehm, who stated publicly at a recent meeting that input from the union, students, community members and other school districts has led to her firm opposition to privatization.

"I was one who started out in favor of privatizing. It was 100% because of money, because we never have money to do the things we need to do," Board President Ziehm said. "Having said that, I have come full circle and can no longer vote to privatize."

"I've only had 2 or 3 people at most tell me they're in favor of (privatization)" she added. "And I think there's like 300 who have personally told me they're opposed to it."

Coffman said the lack of planning and consistency throughout the entire budget and negotiation process resulted in an unfair situation for the custodians.

"Why is only one bargaining unit singled out for reductions?" Coffman asked. "Why do other bargaining units get raises? We shouldn't favor some bargaining units at the expense of another."

Ziehm discussed an "eloquent letter" she received from a student, who wrote about how her parents drop her off at school very early in the morning when only the custodian is there. The student wrote that the custodian meets her every morning and stays with her other people arrive.

"She feels safe with him, and in this letter she basically begged," Ziehm explained, adding that building a comfortable climate for students must be a major factor in the board's decision.

She compared privatization to trade agreements that shipped U.S. jobs overseas, said a private company would not provide the same the quality of cleaning and maintenance and added that there were safety issues with contractors—such as stolen, broken or misplaced equipment.

"I also spoke to the Superintendent of Chelmsford for 15-20 minutes," Ziehm told the other board members. "And he said we will live to regret it. They have reversed their decision."

Ziehm spoke with Jay Lang, who replaced the outgoing superintendent responsible for spearheading the effort to privatize school custodians that displaced 21 hardworking AFSCME members in 2013. Chelmsford reversed course after acknowledging that their privatization attempt was a complete failure. Five contract custodians employed by Aramark, the private corporation that Chelmsford hired, were arrested on charges ranging from theft of student medication and school property to outstanding drug warrants. The town will bring custodial services back in-house this fall.

Lang provided his cell phone number to AFSCME and said the union could share it with all members of the Nashua School Board who wanted to speak with him about the troubles experienced in Chelmsford.

Ziehm added that everyone she's spoken to about Manchester's custodial privatization said it was a mistake, and that Hudson, N.H. recently ended their contract with a private company.

Read more about how Nashua's school custodians never quit here.

Watch the segments of the meeting regarding the custodians, including the vote, Ziehm's statement and Coffman's statement here on AFSCME Council 93's YouTube channel. The full recording of the entire meeting is also available here.

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AFSCME Council 93

AFSCME Council 93 represents more than 45,000 state, county and municipal employees in Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire and Vermont.

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