Source: Fall River Herald News
Three weeks after failing to attend a hearing on legislation that would provide a safer work environment for Department of Youth Services (DYS) Employees, DYS Commissioner Jane Tewksbury appeared before a legislative panel to defend her opposition to the measure.
Testifying yesterday before the legislature’s Joint Committee on Children Families and Persons with Disabilities, Tewksbury publicly stated her opposition to HB2677, a bill that would require DYS management to report serious assaults to district attorneys for investigation and possible prosecution. Council 93 had the legislation filed after more than three years of attempting to resolve the problem of rampant, brutal assaults on staff.
On June 21, Local 1368 members turned out in force for a hearing before the legislature’s Joint Committee on Children, Families and Persons with Disabilities, sharing graphic stories with lawmakers about the assaults they suffered and the lack of support and protection they received from DYS. But Tewksbury did not attend, prompting lawmakers to take the unusual step of extending the public hearing until Tewksbury could find the time to appear and answer questions.
Under the current policies of Tewksbury, staff members who are assaulted by juveniles and young adults in their custody are left to pursue charges on their own – as private citizens. Staff members are discouraged from filing charges and at least in a few known cases, are hindered by DYS’s lack of cooperation with law enforcement and district attorneys investigating the assaults. Tewksbury has counter-intuitively maintained that holding individuals legally accountable for the assaults would harm efforts to rehabilitate the offenders. Council 93 and members of Local 1368 maintain the legislation will serve as a strong deterrent to future assaults by consistently demonstrating to the assailants that there will always be legal repercussions for their illegal actions.
In her testimony yesterday, Tewksbury maintained her stance and claimed her office has been taking steps to reduce the amount of assaults. She also claimed her office provides support to staff members who choose to pursue charges on their own and denied any knowledge of DYS’s lack of cooperation with law enforcement. Her claims prompted looks of shock and disbelief from the dozens of Local 1368 members and staff who attended the hearing. Following the commissioner’s testimony, AFSCME staff and local 1368 members took the stand again to rebut the claims of the commissioner.
The Joint Committee on Children Families and Persons with Disabilities is responsible for reviewing the proposed legislation, taking testimony from concerned parties, and making a recommendation for or against support by the full legislature. Council 93’s Department of Legislation, Political Action and Communications is advocating for a prompt and favorable recommendation from the committee so the bill can advance to the next step in the legislative process.
Council 93's Jim Durkin, Local 1368 President Paul Faria and Local 1368 member Jeremy Comeau testify in favor of HB2677
Ten days after passing legislation that restricted healthcare collective bargaining rights and provided municipalities with the power to shift a greater share of healthcare costs to public employees, members of the House and Senate today accepted a series of amendments to the measure, which help to lessen the impact on municipal workers.
The amendments, offered by Governor Deval Patrick, provide workers with a greater share of cost savings achieved through plan design changes and better protections for retirees and individuals who highly utilize their benefits.
However, Patrick’s amendments do not alter provisions of the legislation that provides cities and towns with the local option of implementing increases in co-payments and deductibles or transferring workers to the state’s Group Insurance Commission (GIC). If a city or town elects to take advantage of the law, the process will work as follows:
- A municipality’s local governing body votes to exercise the local option afforded to them under the new law.
- The municipality notifies public employee unions of its intent to negotiate with all unions as Public Employee Coalition (PEC) and provides the PEC with proposed plan design changes aimed at reducing the overall costs of healthcare coverage. The municipality may also propose transferring workers to the GIC.
- Any proposed changes to existing municipal plan co-payments and deductibles are limited to benchmarks, which are tied to the most utilized plan within the GIC. Currently, the most utilized GIC plan is the Tufts Navigator plan.
- The municipality and the PEC have 30 days from the notification to negotiate over the proposed changes.
- If no agreement is reached the municipality’s plan design changes (including increases in co-payments and deductibles) are implemented immediately.
- However, the entire proposal is sent to the Municipal Health Insurance Review Panel, a new body established by the legislation. The panel has binding authority to require that up to 25% of the total costs savings achieved through the plan design changes be used to mitigate costs for individuals who are very sick and as such, are hit with a high number of co-payments and deductibles.
- If the proposal involves transferring coverage to the GIC, the municipality must prove and the panel must verify that more than 5% can be saved by transferring to the GIC. The 5% must be above and beyond savings that could be achieved by simply implementing plan design changes to existing plans.
- The panel’s decision must be issued within ten days and is binding on both parties.
It is important to note that a municipality is NOT allowed to unilaterally change premium contribution rates. These rates must continue to be negotiated through the collective bargaining process or through Section 19 coalition bargaining.
The quality and type of plans also continues to be negotiated through collective bargaining or section 19 unless a municipality is allowed to transfer workers to the GIC.
The new law also requires the transfer to Medicare of all eligible retirees and requires the municipality to pay associated penalties.
It also provides for a three-year moratorium on retiree premium contribution changes as of July 1, 2011. If a municipality had a proposal for an increase that was approved by the governing body of the municipality before July 1, 2011 and goes into effect July 1, 2011 it can take effect provided the municipality provides sufficient evidence to the Administration and Finance.
Click here to watch State House News Service Video Coverage a signing ceremony and press conference.
Less than ten days after Massachusetts legislators passed a measure that reduced collective bargaining rights and enabled municipalities to shift a greater share of healthcare costs to public employees, it appears that a coalition of public employee unions have convinced Governor Patrick to make amendments to the measure that mitigate the impact on municipal workers. Anticipated changes by the governor include providing workers with a greater share of cost savings achieved through plan design changes and better protections for retirees and individuals who highly utilize their benefits.
While hopeful that their hard work will improve the position of municipal unions, the union coalition is reserving comment until the governor’s amendments are released. The coalition released the following statement on Friday. "The Public Employees Coalition on Municipal Health Insurance has been engaged in positive conversations with the Patrick Administration and legislative leadership which we hope will lead to legislation that in the final analysis addresses our primary concern of providing a meaningful voice for employees to protect the very sick and retirees from exorbitant increases in the costs of health insurance. The coalition has some hope for language that will emerge but has not seen any final language and will not comment until such time as we do."
For the past seven years, AFSCME, the Massachusetts AFL-CIO and other public employee unions have successfully fought off attempts by mayors and city and town managers to strip municipal workers of their ability to collectively bargain over healthcare. In recent years, municipal leaders have stonewalled a number of union and legislative proposals that would have guaranteed cost savings while maintaining existing collective bargaining laws. Over the past two years, many municipal leaders, along with the Massachusetts Municipal Association, have used the current fiscal crisis to drive up pressure on the legislature and have painted the unions as obstructionists while simultaneously leaving hundreds of millions in savings on the table through the rejection of two fair compromise plans included in two consecutive Senate budget proposals.
Meanwhile, the unions continued to offer meaningful compromise proposals and collectively bargain healthcare agreements that included significant union sacrifices. In Boston alone, AFSCME and all other public employee unions reached an agreement with Mayor Menino that will save the city more than $70 million over four years. Similar agreements were reached by AFSCME in Newton and Lowell. But faced with the need to make deep cuts in the FY12 budget, the legislature passed a budget earlier this month that provided cities and towns with the authority to make certain plan design changes despite aggressive lobbying by public employee unions which included AFSCME.
Operating within a narrow ten-day timeframe that Governor Patrick has to act on the budget, the unions turned to the administration for help while continuing to lobby legislative leaders. According to coverage in the State House News Service, legislative leaders have already pledged their support for Patrick’s changes, calling full formal sessions for Monday when the governor is expected to issue his proposed amendments to the budget.
AFSCME members are encouraged to check this website on Monday July 11 for an update.
Council 93 and AFSCME International are pleased to announce an exciting new training program aimed at helping local unions develop the skills needed to fight and win in today’s challenging political and economic environment.
Scheduled for the weekend of October 21- 23 at a location to be determined, the Local Union Leadership Academy (LULA) will help local presidents and their executive board members:
- Develop local union goals and objectives
- Help members gain a better understanding of the political and governmental processes that impact their jobs, wages and benefits
- Recruit volunteers and generate more involvement within rank and file membership
- Bridge the age gap between long-serving and new members
- Make meetings more productive and effective
- Improve the ability to recruit stewards
- Gain a better knowledge of the roles, responsibilities and day-to-day duties of local officers and chapter leaders
Unlike other AFSCME training initiatives that accept individual members and local leaders, this state-of-the-art program requires the commitment of a local president and a minimum of four additional members of the local’s executive board. The training will begin at 1:00 pm on Friday, October 21 and conclude on Sunday at 4:00 P.M.
Hotel accommodations and meals will be paid for by the Council and attendees will be reimbursed for any lost wages incurred as a result of the 1:00 pm start on Friday.
Due to limited seating, only nine locals will be accepted for the October program so interested local presidents are encouraged act quickly by emailing Alva Arellano for more information including the registration process. Alva is also available to speak with local presidents by telephone at 617-367-3686.
Council 93 members working in Maine state corrections and mental health facilities have reached a contract agreement with the state. The contract, ratified last night, provides for a one-year extension of the current contract.
“Our lead negotiator Jim Mackie and our entire negotiating team did a fantastic job under very difficult conditions,” said Frank Moroney, special assistant to Council 93 Executive Director Tony Caso. Moroney noted that public employees in Maine have been under constant attack in recent years. “Anti-union elected officials are coming after our pensions, our healthcare benefits and our collective bargaining rights but we are standing up to them and fighting back in every corner of the state. I want to assure our members in Maine that AFSCME will continue to serve as a loud and strong voice against these attacks.”
Moroney also noted the important role Council’s 93’s Harriett Spencer played in reaching an agreement in Maine. Spencer had been working in both Maine and New Hampshire before shifting full-time to New Hampshire where public employees are also facing a barrage of attacks on benefits and collective bargaining rights.
Council 93 represents more than 700 members in Maine state corrections and mental health, many of whom put their lives on the line every day. In an effort to raise public awareness of difficult work performed by state corrections officers, the Council recently produced a series of radio commercials that aired state-wide over a two week period. The radio spots provided AFSCME members with the opportunity to speak directly to hundreds of thousands of citizens about the difficult and dangerous nature of their jobs.
To listen to the radio spots, click on the names of the individuals officers listed below:
Proponents of union-busting Right to Work legislation were dealt another defeat this week when New Hampshire Republican House Speaker William O’Brien announced he would continue to run from an override vote that would have killed the latest attempt to implement the legislation in the Granite State.
The victory comes just three weeks after labor effectively led a Republican-controlled legislature to “table" a public-sector Right-to-Work bill in Maine until the next legislative session in January.
While O’Brien has pledged to revisit the issue in the fall, opposition to Right-to-Work continues to build as AFSCME, the New Hampshire AFL-CIO and other like-minded unions, citizens and organizations continue to spread the truth about the legislation and the real agenda of the corporations and fat-cat right-wing donors behind it.
“Our members and the many organizations and individuals who oppose Right-to-Work legislation continue to do a fantastic job spreading the truth about this harmful legislation and refuting the outright lies of its union-busting supporters,” said Council 93 Executive Director Tony Caso. ‘We know these battles aren’t over and in fact, they may never truly end. But we will remain vigilant and we will fight as long and as hard as we have to in order to keep these harmful initiatives out of our four-state region.”
Speaker O’Brien started running from inevitable defeat on May 25 when it was clear that a coalition of Democratic and Republican legislators had the votes needed to sustain Governor John Lynch’s veto of the legislation. Without Lynch’s veto, New Hampshire would have become the 23rd state in the nation to adopt Right-to-Work legislation and the first state to do it since Oklahoma passed the measure more than ten years ago.
Supporters of Right-to-Work have been falsely claiming the legislation will help create new jobs and entice businesses to move to New Hampshire. However, a recent study by the Economic Policy Institute found that manufacturing jobs in Oklahoma steadily declined in the decade following passage of the law and (compared to six surrounding states) had no impact on job growth or the unemployment rate. The EPI study, entitled Right-to-Work Wrong for New Hampshire, also found that the number of out-of-state businesses operating plants in Oklahoma decreased after passage of the law while 100 facilities closed and an additional 160 businesses announced mass layoffs.Moreover, according to the AFL-CIO, the average worker in a Right-to-Work state makes $5,333 less per year than workers in other states.
When their false job-creation rhetoric fails, supporters of Right-to-Work turn to the deceptive claim that the legislation is it is needed to prevent workers from being forced to join a union against their will. They try to mislead lawmakers by stating that workers are being forced to pay union dues which in turn are being used to support union activities that run counter to their religious and political beliefs. But the truth is workers are already protected from such outrageous mandates. Under current law, workers are not and can not be forced to join a union. But, current law does allow these workers to be charged a modest “fair share” fee by a union because they fully benefit from the wage increases and improved benefits and working conditions secured through union negotiations. However, if the worker believes this fee is being used to support activity that runs counter to their religious or political beliefs, they can have that fee donated to a legitimate charity of their choosing.
In exchange for paying this fee – even if they decide to have it donated to a charity – these workers receive the same pay raises, benefits and improved working conditions enjoyed by their full dues paying union member colleagues. Moreover, should they find that they have been wrongfully disciplined, fired or denied a promotion to a better job; they have access to the same union legal representation as full dues paying members. In fact, these workers can even sue the union if they believe they were inadequately represented in such instances. If that seems a bit unfair to workers who pay full union dues, it’s because it probably is. However, it is a system unions are willing to accept knowing that these fees, while drastically lower than full union dues, help provide us with the resources we need to do the important work we do for every worker.
The real agenda of Right-to-Work supporters is to strip labor organizations of these "fair share" fees while simultaneously forcing unions to expend substantial resources fighting the initiatives, thereby weakening labor's ability to organize and adequately represent members.
Council 93 encourages all AFSCME members to arm themselves with the facts about Right-to- Work and join the efforts to stop it by educating family members, friends and elected officials.
Members of the Chelmsford, MA School Committee recently voted to outsource the jobs of 24 AFSCME school custodians, leaving the long-serving public employees two choices – unemployment or a 60% cut in pay working for the for-profit company that duped the naïve committee members into signing the agreement.
Despite concession offers by the custodians that included significant cuts in wages and benefits, the school board voted to hand over school maintenance to Aramark – a corporation that pays high six figure salaries to top executives and poverty wages to front-line staff.
Committee members Al Thomas, Michael Rigney and Nick DeSilvio cast the heartless and shortsighted vote, while members Evelyn Thoren and Janet Askenburg took the coward’s way out by failing to show for the meeting. Askenburg cited an unspecific “potential” conflict of interest.
Thomas’ vote was the most disappointing. A former teacher and school principle, Thomas had assured the custodians for several months that he was in their corner but broke his word at the 11th hour.
Last week, custodians Mike Greenwood and Rick Thorne joined Council 93’s Jim Durkin and Joe Maccarone for a meeting with reporters from the Lowell Sun to discuss the impact on the custodians. Read the Lowell Sun story here. or see text below
If you want to tell the Chelmsford School Committee members how you feel about their vote to cast our union brothers and sisters into poverty wage jobs, you can reach them through the following contact information, which is also readily available on the Chelmsford School Department website.
Al Thomas: (978) 256-8772
Nick DeSilvio: (978) 250-9101
Michael Rigney: (978) 256-1186
see text of Lowell Sun Story below
Janitors: Pay cut will force us to retire
By Rita Savard, email@example.com
Updated: 06/21/2011 06:41:49 AM EDT
CHELMSFORD-- They offered to take a pay cut and slash their benefits, but the school district's custodians say it wasn't enough. Now their union says janitors are being forced into early retirement after the new corporate bosses offered to keep them on the job -- for a 60 percent cut in hourly wages.
Following a School Committee vote to outsource custodial services on June 8, Aramark Education Services will hold a contract to manage cleaning, maintenance and facilities in Chelmsford's seven schools.
Although the corporation has agreed to retain the jobs of 23.5 custodians, Michael Greenwood and Rick Thorne say Aramark offered even veteran custodians who have been on the job for 23 years a decrease in hourly wages, going from $18 per hour to $8.25 per hour. Under the new contract, health benefits would also cost about $100 more per month, custodians said.
A spokesperson from Aramark was unavailable for comment yesterday.
"Putting this all on the backs of the people who can least afford it just doesn't seem fair," said Greenwood, president of the union. "What sacrifices have the administration been making? There are many pulling in six-figure salaries. What are they giving up?"
Greenwoodsaid Aramark's offer gives the majority of the custodial staff no alternative but retirement. Greenwood, whose wife is battling terminal cancer, said if he took lesser insurance combined with the steep pay cut, he'd lose the house he worked his life for.
It costs the school district $1.3 million per year for the custodial staff. Outsourcing the service to Aramark will cost about $841,000, saving the school district about $460,000 annually.
Schoolofficials say they hammered out a contract that stressed a preference for retaining the current custodial staff. But what happens now is between custodians and the contract holder.
"We didn't discuss with Aramark the salary they would negotiate with staff," said Superintendent Frank Tiano. "At that point, it's our hope that veteran staff would be offered more than $8 an hour. But now that's in the hands of Aramark."
Thorne, the highest paid custodian, made $38,495 last year, not including overtime. Greenwood made about $36,973. Custodians said any overtime accrued is typically paid by outside sources that rent the school buildings and need custodians on hand to clean during and after events.
Greenwood, 59, has worked as a custodian in Chelmsford for 13 years. Thorne has worked in the district 23 years.
SchoolCommittee member Allen Thomas, who was elected to the board in April, said it was a tough vote. Thomas knows the men well after working as a teacher, dean and principal in the district for many years.
At first he was against it. But the more discussions touched upon the cost of replacing outdated equipment and the loss of 10 custodial positions over the past decade, Thomas said his opinion changed.
"The cost of replacing old equipment and staff was so considerable," Thomas said. "It's a sad circumstance and it's not the custodians' fault. It's the situation they were put in after a long period of time, of not having the money to upkeep equipment."
Thomas also said hourly wages weren't discussed, but it was his understanding that the benefits were reasonably good for both health and dental. Custodians did not receive dental under the school district's insurance plan.
Custodianshad a chance to bid for the contract as well, but were unable to match Aramark's offer.
"We were willing to come to an understanding," Greenwood said. "We offered to take a $1.50-per-hour cut in pay, give up a week's vacation and paid sick days. They didn't want it, but they didn't really tell us what they wanted from us."
The custodians' union is also the last union to have a sick bank in place, which allows workers to deposit and accumulate unused sick days for them to cash in on later.
Custodianssay in the end, outsourcing could cost the district more. With more than 1,000 days in the bank, the school district could have to shell out more than $100,000 to the janitors.
Schoolofficials declined to comment on the sick bank yesterday because they were still in negotiations with the union.
Jim Durkin, a union representative from the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, said it's not too late for the School Committee to "admit it made a mistake."
"The School Committee should be listening to what the community wants," Durkin said, adding that every teacher in the school district signed a petition to keep the custodians' jobs.
Many of the teachers expressed concern over bringing in workers at low wages resulting in more turnover and more strangers coming in and out of the schools.
"If these people lose their jobs, there are 1,051 labor households in Chelmsford under the AFSCME umbrella and we will make sure they all know what happened," Durkin said.
SchoolCommittee member Nick DeSilvio said the committee's decision ultimately came down to the bigger picture.
"I never knew what was offered as far as hourly rates were concerned," he said. "I had to look at the long run, and that was the impact to students. The cost savings will help the district do what we do best, and that's educate our kids."
Source: Boston Globe
As cities and states across the nation take aim at public employee pensions, Boston City Hall is engaged in a very different debate: how much to increase retirees’ checks.
Mayor Thomas M. Menino is proposing to boost the annual cost-of-living adjustment for most pensioners from $360 to $390, a $30 increase. City Council president Stephen J. Murphy is pushing for more, seeking a $90 increase over the current rate.
Other Massachusetts cities and towns have had similar debates. Last month in Brookline, voters rejected the advice of the Board of Selectmen and approved a pension increase akin to what Menino is proposing. In Hampden County last year, the retirement board that covers 18 towns enlarged the annual cost-of-living adjustment by $180.
In contrast, Maine lawmakers canceled all cost-of-living increases for three years for the roughly 37,000 beneficiaries in the state pension system. Last month, Chicago’s mayor, Rahm Emanuel, called for a pause on cost-of-living increases for a decade. Residents in San Diego voted overwhelmingly to eliminate pensions for newly hired city employees - except police officers - and institute a 401(k) program.
But Massachusetts county retirement boards covering almost 200 cities and towns have approved larger pension checks by increasing the yearly cost-of-living adjustments, according to Ralph White, president of Mass Retirees, which represents the Commonwealth’s retired public employees.
“At first blush, it does look opposite to the trend,’’ said Jean-Pierre Aubry, assistant director of state and local research at the Center for Retirement Research at Boston College. “But Massachusetts differs from these other plans.’’
Unlike 70 percent of public sector workers nationally, municipal retirees in Massachusetts are not eligible for Social Security, which increases to keep up with inflation, Aubry said. But historically in Massachusetts, only the first $12,000 of a pension has been eligible for cost-of-living adjustments. That cap has kept increases comparatively low. In recent years, the increase has been 3 percent of $12,000, which added $360 a year to most retirees’ checks.
Public employees in Massachusetts contribute a share of each paycheck to the pension system, with the workers who make more than $30,000 putting in 11 percent. That is a much larger share than in many other states, which may explain the decision by some Massachusetts pension systems to increase payouts.
“It seems counterintuitive when you look at our brothers and sisters across the country,’’ said Joseph E. Connarton, executive director of the Public Employee Retirement Administration Commission.
“But our brothers and sisters nationally are not on the same page because our contributions have been higher and more consistent,’’ he said.
State lawmakers passed a slew of changes in recent years designed to stop pension abuses by some retirees. The moves pushed the minimum retirement age for some workers from 55 to 60; decreased some benefits; and adjusted the formula for pension payouts by basing them on employees’ last five years instead of three years.
Crucially, the changes also allowed cities and towns to increase the base for cost-of-living adjustments.
“It’s actually bringing it closer in line with the rest of the nation,’’ Aubry said. “The existing [cost-of-living adjustment] was very meager compared to others.’’
But Samuel R. Tyler, president of the Boston Municipal Research Bureau, argues that it is “not fiscally prudent’’ for the city to promise to increase pensions in a fragile economy. Critics question whether pension funds can generate enough long-term revenue, plus there is the pressure of rising retiree health care costs.
“We’re looking at the bigger picture,’’ Tyler said.
The Boston Retirement Board voted, 4-1, last month to raise the base figure used to calculate annual increases, shifting it from $12,000 to $13,000. That means most retirees would see $390 a year more in their benefits checks, up from the current $360. The move still needs approval by the City Council, which is supposed to take up the issue Wednesday.
If that proposal is approved, it would cost $2.5 million next year, according to an analysis by the city’s actuary. That would grow to $21.4 million by 2025.
Murphy’s plan would boost the base rate for pension calculations to $15,000. That translates into a total cost-of-living adjustment of $450, a $90 increase over the current rate. That proposal would cost $7.3 million next year, according to the analysis. By 2025, the cost would mushroom to $63 million.
Murphy pointed out that Boston has weathered the fiscal crisis better than other large cities and is facing its first “breathing room budget’’ in several years.
“We could afford it,’’ Murphy said last week in an interview. “You have people that are retired that have gotten no or very little increase over a number of years. The longer they live, the closer they are getting to the poverty level.’’
The city has roughly 14,400 retirees with an average annual pension of roughly $33,000, according to the Boston Retirement Board. But as salaries have increased, so have pensions. A study by the Municipal Research Bureau found that for the 450 people who retired in 2009, the average pension was $49,480.
Many private companies now offer 401(k)s for retirement, which shift risk to employees, who can lose their investments when the economy falters. A pension system keeps the risk with the government, which is obligated to keep cutting checks for retirees and their beneficiaries.
“It’s guaranteed, irrespective of the city’s finances or market condition,’’ Tyler said.
Jim Durkin, spokesman for Council 93 of the American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees, rejected the suggestion that the city could not afford the $30 increase.
“This is not a budget buster by anyone’s standards,’’ said Durkin, whose union includes roughly 2,000 city workers. “It is an extra copay on somebody’s prescription drug plan. Thirty dollars is more of a gesture toward these retirees.
“It’s a positive and a well-deserved gesture,’’ Durkin said. “It’s recognition that they are not getting rich by any means on a public employee pension.’’
Andrew Ryan can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @globeandrewryan.
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