Madison, Wis. -- In an effort to make it difficult for voters to cast ballots against him, Gov. Scott Walker signed a bill that restricts early voting.
As attacks on working people continue across the nation, it can feel like there’s no one in Congress willing to stick up for the middle class. But at least one Senator is speaking out on labor issues. On Tuesday, Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts addressed AFSCME's International Vice Presidents at the union's headquarters.
"There are two very different visions of America's future competing in Washington. The Republican vision is ‘"’ve got mine, and the rest of you are on your own," she told AFSCME members. "You are a threat to them, because every single day you are living out a different vision. People who go into public service are putting other people’s families first. They are putting the community first."
As Congress searches for a course of action on government funding, allies like Warren aren't just working to hold off painful cuts - they're speaking up for an expanded social safety net. Warren called for raising the minimum wage and increasing Social Security benefits. She argues that doomsday predictions of a Social Security crisis are exaggerated by those who would rather slash retirement benefits.
"We don’t have to make cuts to people’s benefits to make this work," Warren said. "In fact, we can make adjustments and increase benefits."
She also criticized the pension cuts that have hit retirees across the country.
"No one turned to the CEOs of the big banks and said, 'now that we're in trouble, why don't you give back part of the paycheck that you earned over the past twenty years?' No one says that to the guys at the top."
Warren grew up the daughter of a custodian and attended a state university for only $50 a semester in 1970. By 1992 she was a professor at Harvard Law. She attributes her success to a strong middle-class society that is now under attack.
AFSCME is proud to stand with Senator Warren and others who champion the values of ordinary Americans. "I can think of few other Senators who stand with us on so many issues," AFSCME Pres. Lee Saunders said.
Members of AFSCME Local 1028 ratified a new contract last week after a 15-month long struggle for fair pay, affordable health care and respect on the job. The pact was reached after a 16-day strike by more than 1,000 frontline county employees. An overwhelming majority voted to ratify the contract. Workers stood up with the support of their community.
“Our strike was about ensuring county employees have the fair pay and affordable health care they deserve in return for their hard work, dedication and service to county residents,” Local 1028 Pres. Dave Delrose said. “We didn’t want to see our wages lose ground when the cost of living goes up, and we weren't going to accept a health plan where the lowest-paid employees were asked to do more than the highest-paid. By standing together we reached a fair settlement that achieves those goals.”
The new contract is a four-year agreement retroactive to Dec.1, 2012, and extending through Nov. 30, 2016. It includes cost-of-living wage increases totaling 4.5 percent. Importantly, it eliminates the county pay plan's two bottom steps, in effect adjusting the wage scale upward a further 5 percent while ensuring that employees will continue to receive step increases. The agreement also ensures that increased costs for health care are shared equitably based on employees' ability to pay.
County employees already went four years without a cost-of-living increase, and 40 percent earned less than $30,000 a year. Despite that, they were earlier asked to accept a proposal that would have drastically increased health care costs without adequate wage increases, making it effectively a pay cut for many workers. Local 1028 members went on strike Nov. 18 after the county refused to agree to a contract that included fair wages and affordable health insurance costs.
“Will County employees stood up and won fairness, justice and respect on the job,” Council 31 Exec. Dir. Henry Bayer, also an AFSCME International vice president, said. “The unity and determination of AFSCME Local 1028 members to fight for what's right, no matter the odds, sets an example for us all.”
“We thank everyone in the community for the tremendous outpouring of support,” Delrose said. “To everyone who hung a sign or joined our picket lines, donated to our cause or just honked and waved, we couldn't have done it without you. Now we're glad to be back at work, serving you, our neighbors and the countless friends across the county that we never knew we had.”
A member of Retired Public Employees Council of Washington, Chapter 10, Mary Marbles is one of the many activists who make AFSCME a powerful voice for retirees across the country. We recently asked her to share her thoughts with us about being an AFSCME member.
How long have you been active with AFSCME?
I got involved in AFSCME when I was working for the Harbor View Medical Center at the University of Washington. I worked there for 30 years in medical records and patient registration. During my time at the hospital I became a union member and got very involved with my local. I retired in 1999.
What do you do as part of the retiree chapter?
I am the secretary. In all my years there I have missed maybe one executive board meeting. As for our activities, we go to a lot of conventions and conferences and set up booths. We go to the legislature for lobby days. We want to let people know that we retirees exist.
What would you say to other retirees?
We have a big fight: I am very concerned about our pensions and Medicare and Social Security. Our retirees need to come in and help us be advocates for our retirement security that we’ve earned. We’re out there constantly petitioning our legislators to protect against harmful cuts. I would invite other retirees to help us fight.
by By Pablo Ros | December 13, 2013
During his State of the Union address on Jan. 8, 1964, Pres. Lyndon Johnson remarked that “many Americans live on the outskirts of hope – some because of their poverty, and some because of their color, and all too many because of both.”
He added, “Our task is to help replace this despair with opportunity,” launching America’s War on Poverty. That included passage of the Food Stamp Act of 1964, the Economic Opportunity Act of 1964, and the Social Security Act of 1965, which created Medicare and Medicaid, and many other initiatives, including the Head Start program.
Today, these programs keep millions out of poverty and improve the lives of children and families.
But as effective as these programs are, our policies have not kept up with the changing times. That’s why today, to mark the 50th anniversary of the War on Poverty and to highlight today’s most pressing economic challenges, AFSCME is asking for your stories. We are looking for two kinds of stories:
1) Tell us about your frontline experiences as an AFSCME member working to help families make ends meet. For example, we want to hear how you make a difference to someone’s life in your work in Head Start, eligibility determination for food stamps and/or Medicaid, or in other safety net programs; and
2) Tell us if you and your family have been helped by safety net programs, like Medicaid, Head Start, and SNAP. Tell us about what changes are needed to these programs to better help you and your families establish a solid economic footing.
We must recommit to our goal of reducing poverty. At a time of high unemployment and rising inequality, AFSCME is calling on our elected leaders to continue moving families from poverty to prosperity. Your stories bring public policy to life.
Click here to tell us your stories.
AFSCME members join the nation in honoring the 20 children and six adult educators of Sandy Hook Elementary School slain in Newtown, Conn., on Dec. 14, 2012.
Many of the police officers, emergency dispatchers and other public service workers who responded that day are members of AFSCME. Our members rushed toward danger, helped children, parents and townspeople and, even as they dealt with their own grief and trauma, aided the recovery effort in the days and weeks that followed.
In the moments immediately following the first call of “shots fired,” the Newtown Police Department reacted with professionalism and heroism. All 44 officers and employees are members of the Newtown Police Union Local 3153 (Connecticut Council of Police/AFSCME Council 15). Approximately 14 of them went directly to the school, putting themselves into harm’s way without hesitation.
In recognition of their actions responding to the massacre, the Newtown local this October received the 2013 Law Enforcement Award at the AFSCME Public Safety Congress.
Also responding were public service workers from many other departments and agencies. They included workers represented by AFSCME Council 4. Among them were the Newtown school nurses of Local 1302-215 who comforted and protected the children and provided medical assistance.
The Newtown police dispatchers of AFSCME Local 1303-136 and the state police dispatchers of AFSCME Local 562 also acted with urgency and professionalism. Members of the State Social and Human Service Professional Employees AFSCME Local 2663 provided on-site counseling to those who needed it. Public works employees of Local 1303-200 also played important roles in the response effort.
That effort continued long after the shootings. Police officers from Council 15 locals throughout the state contributed their time to direct Newtown traffic, to take over shifts from Newtown officers, and to perform other regular police work while the town’s officers attended funerals and worked through their grief. As one AFSCME official said, “it was like a brotherhood.”
Town and state troopers were assigned to help the families of those who lost loved ones.
In the shooting’s aftermath, Council 15 provided health services to many officers and other public service workers who needed it. The union also encouraged emergency responders to attend peer-support team meetings to deal with their raw emotions.
Outpourings of support flooded in from every corner of America. More than 6,000 AFSCME members nationwide have signed an online sympathy card for their Newtown brothers and sisters involved in the response effort, and to the Newtown community.
Expressions of sympathy gave way to direct action as members of AFSCME Councils 4 and 15 – working through a coalition of unions – pressed for changes in the law to ensure that public service workers and volunteers could get additional mental health support if they needed it. In March, the state Legislature passed a bill creating a charitable fund to cover medical costs for both physical and emotional impairment due to the shooting.
Many officers who responded to the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting continue to suffer emotionally. Some were unable to return to work for extended periods. That’s why AFSCME and other coalition members will continue pressing the Legislature to enable the state’s workers’ compensation system to cover treatment costs for mental illnesses resulting from future workplace traumas. The system did that until lawmakers slashed benefits 20 years ago.
In addition, first responders employed by the state – and other state employees who were significantly involved with the direct response to the shooting – will be credited with 40 hours of comp time under an agreement reached this month between the state, AFSCME and five other unions representing state employees. The agreement, which is intended to recognize the extraordinary nature of the tragedy. has been submitted to the General Assembly for final approval.
However, Newtown employees who took sick and vacation leave to deal with personal matters related to the shootings were not included in the agreement. AFSCME is still pushing to get Newtown officials to provide similar coverage to their employees in recognition of the extraordinary nature of the tragedy.
The Sandy Hook Elementary School gun massacre is a tragedy that should never happen again. Our children and educators deserve safe school environments. But when tragedy does occur, public service workers like those in Newtown, Conn., will do their jobs with professionalism and heroism.
Governor Malloy has called for houses of worship to ring their bells 26 times on Dec. 14, once for every victim lost that day. Wherever you are, take a moment to remember those victims, their families, and also those who came to help in any way that they could.
Four veterans, representing1.6 million AFSCME members, paid their respects today to those who have died in service to our nation during a wreath-laying ceremony at the Tomb of the Unknowns in Arlington National Cemetery.
- Danny Donohue, president of the New York State Civil Service Employees Association, AFSCME Local 1000, served in the Army during Vietnam.
- Danny Homan, president of Iowa Council 61, served in the U.S. Army from 1971-1973. His son, His son Brent, also an Army veteran, was badly injured in Iraq in 2006 when his vehicle hit a roadside bomb.
- Ken Deitz, RN, president of the United Nurses Associations of California/Union of Health Care Professionals (UNAC/UHCP), is an Air Force veteran.
Charles Jurgonis, AFSCME’s Financial Services director, also helped lay the wreath. He served in the Army during the Vietnam War.
AFSCME Pres. Lee Saunders and Sec.-Treas. Laura Reyes participated in the ceremony as well. AFSCME is a founding member of the AFL-CIO Union Veterans Council. This past Veterans Day, Saunders urged Americans to honor veterans with jobs and justice.
“Among our 1.6 million members, there are countless veterans, as well as parents, spouses and partners, children and grandchildren of those who have served our nation in times of conflict and peace,” Saunders said. “While we commemorate those who have died in service, the members of AFSCME recommit to advocating for veterans living each day with the scars of war and the turmoil of an uncertain future.”
The tomb – also called the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier although it was never officially named – overlooks Washington, D.C., from its site at the top of a hill in Arlington, Va. On March 4, 1921, Congress approved the burial here of a single unidentified American soldier who fought in the first World War. Today it symbolizes all Americans who died anonymously in wars, conflicts and incidents since 1776.
by Helen Cox | December 12, 2013
Finally, retirement will soon be a reality for veteran Memphis sanitation workers like Cleo Smith, one of the men who went on strike in 1968, proclaiming “I Am a Man” and demanding dignity for himself and his fellow workers.
The Memphis City Council this month passed a retirement reform ordinance, paving the way for 40 men over the age of 65 to retire. They’ve been on the physically demanding job for decades. The council’s vote creates a supplemental retirement program that will allow them to retire.
“We’ve committed the majority of our working lives to making sure Memphis’ waste is taken care of,” Smith said. “We’ve suffered on the job injuries but pushed through year after year. Now, we’re finally getting the respect we deserve.”
Currently, sanitation workers are only covered by Social Security and a small contribution by the city to a savings plan. Our union agreed to longer collection routes as part of a broader restructuring of solid waste services and collection practices. A portion of the savings generated through these changes, including the “sweat equity” from the longer routes, will support this benefit.
AFSCME Local 1733 fought for this historic reform for the past several years. While the details are still being developed, the benefit will provide a worker at 65 years of age an annual benefit of $400 per year of service, capped at 30 years or $12,000.
But the vote was not all good news. The council rejected a fee of $2.25 a month that would help maintain the city’s sanitation fleet and modernize the city’s recycling program. That recycling program would provide economic benefits over time.
“This is a win for workers, but the fight’s not over,” Gail Tyree, executive director of Local 1733 said. “We now need to restore the solid waste fee of $2.25 a month, in order to keep our fleet of trucks updated and operating, which will go a long way in running an efficient operation, a small price to pay for sanitation workers to be able to retire with dignity. AFSCME certainly isn’t backing down now and we are committed to keeping up the fight.”
The restructured longer routes will fall to younger sanitation workers like Adrian Rodgers. But they finally have the promise of a more secure retirement after decades of service.
“After 30 to 50 years of working for Memphis, these men are owed a decent retirement and so are we, the younger guys,” Rodgers said. “We’re willing to work longer and harder days if it means there’s a light at the end of the tunnel, that we can all retire with dignity and without fear having to choose between medicine and rent.”
by David Patterson and Pablo Ros | December 06, 2013
Greg Timmerman, a custodian at Greenhaven Elementary in Hibbing, Minn., was recently monitoring the cafeteria when he noticed something was wrong with one of the students waiting in line.
Standing by the garbage barrels as students cleaned off their trays after lunch, the AFSCME Local 480, Council 65 member spotted a first grader who appeared to be having some difficulty breathing.
“She looked like she was going to throw up,” Timmerman said. “I asked her if she was ok. She tried to speak but couldn’t so she shook her head no.”
Timmerman jumped into action, applying the Heimlich maneuver, though at first to no avail. “I got scared because the girl needed help, but I didn’t want to hurt her,” he said.
The second time it was successful. A grape lodged in the girl’s throat popped out.
This wasn’t Timmerman’s first time performing the Heimlich to save a student. Nor is Timmerman the only custodian in Hibbing who has done so.
Jim Jukich, a janitor at Washington Elementary School who is also a member of AFSCME Local 480, Council 65, has saved two children from choking.
“That’s why I’m in the cafeteria during lunch hours – in case there’s a problem,” Jukich said. “There’s lots of spills … but in case there’s emergencies – it’s good to be on hand.”
Although student choking incidents are rare, according to a recent study by the American Academy of Pediatrics, non-fatal occurrences are on the rise.
At the schools, students and teachers look up to Timmerman and Jukich for their quick action.
Since the latest incident, Timmerman now has a lifelong fan. “She comes up to me daily and asks if she can wipe a table, and then she tells me that I’m her hero,” he said of the student he helped. “I just need to know that she is happy and healthy.”
by Joye Barksdale and Olivia Sandbothe | December 06, 2013
Turning 40 can be a downer, especially when people protest at your party, a well-regarded newspaper airs your dirty laundry and the deep-pocketed friends you count on turn “mean girl” on you.
That’s how ALEC, the American Legislative Exchange Council, “celebrated” its birthday this week.
ALEC is the business-backed, extremist group that promotes legislation that advances corporate interests and the super wealthy at the expense of working families. Its members are state legislators across the country who sponsor model bills that undercut voting rights and workers’ rights and push corporate tax cuts and deregulation.
This week, The Guardian revealed that many of ALEC’s corporate members pulled out of the organization because they didn’t want to be associated with the Stand Your Ground controversy. According to the article, ALEC has lost 60 of the corporations that fund its operations over the past two years, costing it a third of its projected income. The corporate funders who’ve abandoned ship include Coca-Cola, General Electric, Walmart and McDonald’s.
However, the article, based on documents obtained by the newspaper, also revealed that ALEC has created a special project – “Prodigal Son” – to lure those funders back. It’s also setting up a sister organization called the “Jeffersonian Project” to shield it from possible governmental inquiries about whether some of its activities constitute lobbying. Engaging in lobbying could endanger ALEC’s tax-exempt status.
One of the documents included a proposed agreement that ALEC board members discussed having state chairs, who are elected legislators, to sign. The agreement included this pledge: “I will act with care and loyalty and put the interests of the organization first.” This might surprise those who thought legislators should put the interests of voters first.
The lengthy Guardian article was only part of the fun for ALEC. This week the group is marking its anniversary with a secret policy summit in the basement of a Washington, D.C. hotel. The organization was called out by protestors who showed up en masse to counter their corporate agenda with a working-class perspective. Over 100 people demonstrated, many of them holding picket signs that read “Stop the War on Workers!”
The demonstration didn’t pull ALEC and its legislative lackeys out of hiding, but it did highlight the increasing heat that the organization is facing as a result of its greed-driven agenda. As more details emerge about the reach of corporate dollars in our state capitols, ALEC and its allies are increasingly on the defensive. It’s time to get them out of politics for good.
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