TRENTON, N.J.–Gov. Chris Christie’s attempt to shortchange the state’s pension fund by cutting the state’s payment by $1.6 billion was illegal, Superior Court Judge Mary Jacobson ruled Feb. 23.
“We applaud Judge Jacobson’s correct decision,” said Sheryl Gordon, AFSCME Council 1 executive director. “This is a step in the right direction to make the thousands of dedicated women and men who keep this state moving whole.”
The decision identified clearly that, unlike Governor Christie, state employees continued to live up to their part of the deal. “Notably, State employees have continued to make increased contributions to the pension funds throughout this period, while the State’s required contributions to the funds have been severely truncated,” Judge Jacobson wrote.
“Thousands of AFSCME members, who we represent, go to work every day to make our neighborhoods, cities and towns better,” said Mattie Harrell, AFSCME Council 71 executive director and also International vice president. “They do their part, they give their all – it’s time for the state to do its part.”
In the scathing judgment, Judge Jacobson ordered Christie to make the state’s portion of the payment to the state pension fund. “When a State itself enters into a contract, it cannot simply walk away from its financial obligations,” she stated. “A promise to pay, with a reserved right to deny or change the effect of the promise, is an absurdity.”
“By simply stepping away from the state’s obligation, Chris Christie once again sent a clear message to all New Jersey workers that he has no respect for the work they do,” said Gerard Meara, AFSCME Council 73 executive director.
Added AFSCME Council 52 Executive Director Richard Gollin, “time and time again, this governor consistently scapegoats public employees to further his real political ambitions and hide his failures as governor.”
Christie indicated he would appeal the decision.
WASHINGTON, DC – Sgt. David Orr, a Norwalk, Conn., public safety officer and AFSCME Local 1727 member, urged the President’s Task Force on 21st Century Policing to recommend extending workman’s compensation to cover Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. In his Feb. 23 testimony, Orr cited the psychological injuries suffered by police officers in the tragedy and aftermath of the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting in Newtown.
“As cops, we all know that those outside of our profession love to hear a good war story,” said Orr. ”But nobody wants to hear the story told by the Newtown officer who responded to Sandy Hook Elementary and entered the first grade classroom to find an entire class full of 6-year-old children murdered by a deranged young man with an assault rifle.”
He reminded the panel that police officers go to work every day to deal with the issues society prefers to ignore and do so because they understand that by going to work they are keeping their communities safer. “We as officers will continue to voluntarily insert our bodies and minds into these events in an effort to help. Most of us will emerge and find a way to cope with what we’ve experienced, but some will not.”
PTSD is recognized by 32 states as a coverable injury under workman’s compensation. However, Connecticut is one of the 18 states that doesn’t cover PTSD. “It is time for every state to recognize the sacrifice that these brave men and women make daily to protect and serve,” said Patrick Gaynor, AFSCME Council 15 president. “We stand by Sergeant Orr’s request and call on President Obama to take necessary steps to include workman’s compensation coverage for job-related PTSD and other psychological injuries that officers sustain in the line of duty.”
Last year, members of the Newtown Police Union, AFSCME Local 3153, took this same message to the Connecticut legislature, only to have it fall on deaf ears. “Perhaps a nudge from the President will wake up the legislature in states like Connecticut that fail to recognize the commitment it takes for these brave men and women to go to work,” closed Gaynor.
The Task Force is due to submit its proposal to President Obama on March 2. The 100,000 public safety officers AFSCME represents nationwide will continue to push for comprehensive workman’s compensation – in Connecticut and other states.
Read Sgt. David Orr’s full testimony here:
SEATTLE – A program that is changing lives by pairing unwanted canines and at-risk juvenile offenders is facing a funding crisis and has turned to “crowdfunding” to survive.
Canine Connection has been around for more than 15 years, but recently suffered a significant decrease in donations. Unless it can raise the level of funding, it will be forced to make several program component cuts or possibly close its doors, to the detriment of both the youth and the dogs in the program.
Program Dir. Jo Simpson, in an interview with a local TV station, expressed her concerns that “donations are at their lowest level since the program started. I'm very worried. We can't offer vocational training, we can't make repairs, can't care for the dogs and cover vet bills if we don't have funding.
AFSCME members employed at the Echo Glen Children’s Center in Snoqualmie, Washington, strongly support the program because they’ve seen the positive effect Canine Connection has on both the canines and young adults. Juvenile rehabilitation counselors represented by Local 341 help pair the children with canines on death row from dog pounds in Washington, Idaho and California.
Echo Glen’s children are taught to work with the dogs directly. They learn to respect, train, bathe and socialize them so they are ready to be adopted by a new family. As the program progresses, they become more responsible, caring and committed to a task, and seeing it through. This has proven to provide mental and emotional benefits to the children. Additionally, the vocational training that kids receive earns credits toward their school diploma.
At the completion of the program, students are judged by a 4-H community expert on their dog handling skills and the dog on his basic obedience skills. An exit interview by the student handler with the new adoptive family is conducted in order to help with the “letting go” process. An awards ceremony is held for the students afterwards.
“Many counselors recognize a difference in both the kids and the dogs,” added Wayne “Bear” Beresford, an AFSCME Local 341 member and security officer. “Rescue dogs find a family happy to welcome a rehabilitated pet into their home. The children use their new attitude and skillset in the facility. And counselors benefit from the transformation of troubled youth.”
Canine Connection has currently raised more than half of its $20,000 funding goal to continue running the program. If you'd like to help, please visit Canine Connection's GoFundMe page.
WESTERVILLE, Ohio – The union representing the majority of Ohio prison employees presented a proposal to the Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction to take back prison food service, which includes a lower per-meal cost than current prison food service vendor, Aramark.
The proposal by the Ohio Civil Service Employees Association, presented Feb. 23, comes in at $1.216 per meal. Aramark’s cost is $1.275. The bid would save $2.9 million a year over the Aramark cost.
“Our proposal proves, when there’s a level playing field, public sector employees are every bit as competitive as those in the private sector,” said OCSEA Pres. Christopher Mabe, also an AFSCME International vice president. “Now, DR&C just needs to do the right thing and bring food service back under state control.”
Not only is OCSEA’s per-meal cost lower than Aramark’s price, its proposal also includes such provisions as beefed-up security and sanitation training for 338 correctional food service coordinators. In addition, OCSEA’s proposal would bring back 41 food service managers whose primary responsibility is sanitation. The bid also would keep the use of four regional monitors who were brought in with the private vendor, because the union says it is serious about cleaning up the institutions.
Numerous security and sanitation violations including maggots in food, inappropriate relationships, increased contraband, and staff and food shortages highlighted the inadequacy of Aramark’s staff training. When the contract began, Aramark employees received a scant eight hours of training. After numerous reports of security and sanitation violations, DR&C required the vendor to increase its training to 32 hours, but at the agency’s expense.
OCSEA’s proposal would bring back an even higher level of training and require food service workers to receive the same six-week training as correctional officers. Additionally, instead of only managers receiving ServSafe certification, as is Aramark’s practice, the union’s proposal will certify all food service workers.
Also under OCSEA’s bid, dozens of lieutenants and captains who were relocated to prison kitchens to monitor food service will return to providing needed security in other areas of the prisons.
“We believe that with well-trained staff compensated fairly, many of the security and sanitation problems we’ve experienced in prison food service will be minimized,” said Mabe.
MADISON, Wisconsin – Four years after Gov. Scott Walker infuriated Wisconsin’s working families by stripping public service workers of their collective bargaining rights, he and his friends in the Legislature are at it again. And this time, ALL workers are in the crosshairs of the attack.
The Wisconsin Legislature held a hearing Feb. 24 for a so-called right-to-work bill that would undermine union rights for private sector workers. These kinds of laws have been used to weaken unions and bring down wages across the country, so it’s no wonder that Wisconsin workers are ready to fight back.
More than 5,000 people turned out to the Capitol building here to tell their elected representatives they’ve had enough of union bashing by the state’s political leaders. The AFSCME members in the crowd already experienced Walker’s heavy-handed tactics, and are ready to continue the fight with their sisters and brothers in the private sector.
“We're standing with them because they stood with us four years ago,” says Gary Mitchell, AFSCME International vice president and president of Local 2412 in Madison. “We’re all in this together.”
The proposed legislation is just one more chapter in the Walker administration’s crusade against Wisconsin’s middle class. The legislation is projected to bring down wages and benefits for Wisconsin families. “This is about fighting back for the rights of all workers to put a roof over their families’ heads, to put food on the table, and to be respected and treated with dignity in the workplace,” said Local 720 member Ryan Wherley.
Maggie Thomas of Local 2634, who used her personal vacation time to attend the rally, said the problem is bigger than any one law. She’s protesting the administration’s entire agenda. "I don't want people to forget about the budget,” she says. “It's going to hurt real people."
As Scott Walker prepares for a possible Presidential run, he’s giving the nation a clear picture of what his leadership looks like, and it’s not pretty. He is promising to give our nation what he’s giving Wisconsin: a raw deal for working families.
The 50th anniversary of the Selma-to-Montgomery, Alabama, marches that led to the passage of the Voting Rights Act are an important part of this year’s celebration of Black History Month. As part of the observance at AFSCME, Dr. Clarence Lusane of American University spoke about the march, the recent movie it inspired, and why voting rights activism is as important now as ever.
“I like to call it not just Black History Month but also ‘black present and future month,’” says Dr. Lusane. “We need to connect the past to what is going on now and where we go next.”
Lusane, whose grandmother marched from Selma to Montgomery in 1965, says we must remember that the civil rights movement was driven by ordinary people, many of them women. While the history books focus on a few big names, it was the work of thousands of average citizens that brought about some of the most important legislation in American history.
But now that crucial legislation is being dismantled by the courts and our elected officials. In 2013, the Supreme Court struck down Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act, which prohibited local governments from placing restrictions on voting. Within hours of the ruling, state governments were redrawing district maps, eliminating early voting and same-day registration, and proposing “Voter ID” laws that would disenfranchise millions of Americans, many of them seniors who have been voting for decades.
With the movie ‘Selma’ in theaters, there is hope that a new generation will take up the cause for free and fair voting rights. AFSCME members continue to fight in the spirit of Selma. We can’t let the rights that so many black heroes fought for, even died for, slip away 50 years later.
TAMPA – Participating in the first White House Conference on Aging in a decade, Carol Ann Loehndorf, president of AFSCME Retirees Chapter 79 in Florida, said afterward that the nation’s policy leaders need to work hard to ensure that current and future retirees can rely on a secure “safety net” of Social Security, Medicare/Medicaid and pensions.
“Aging is naturally going to happen to all of us, and being prepared for it, and trying to achieve the most satisfaction is important for all of us,” said the 73-year-old retired state social worker, who was raised on Social Security survivor benefits along with her brother.
Focusing public attention on retirement security is especially important as the nation this year marks the 50th anniversary of Medicare and Medicaid, and the 80th anniversary of Social Security. Social Security privatization is once again on the political agenda of right-wing lawmakers, while efforts to preserve Social Security and Medicare, and to expand access to Medicaid coverage, are in the daily headlines. Nationwide, pensions are also under attack.
The White House Conference on Aging event in Tampa, on Feb. 19, was the first in a series of regional meetings designed to put a spotlight on the challenges retirees face today.
Loehndorf said she was “quite thrilled” to be invited to the Tampa event. In addition to listening to experts discuss healthy aging, long-term services and supports, and retirement security, she also participated in a break-out session on retirement security. With private sector pensions declining, conservatives and businesses claim that 401(k)-style savings plans can replace defined-benefit employer pensions, Loehndorf responds that you can’t save what you don’t earn.
“So many Americans are not able to save money and plan for the future now” because wages have been stagnant for the last 30 years, she explained.
In addition, those who have pensions, including police, firefighters, teachers and other public service workers, face the loss of promised benefits as state lawmakers hand out tax breaks for corporations, diverting revenue that could have been used to fully fund their employees’ pensions.
“To improve on pension security, you’ve got to make sure that when people have pensions, those pensions stay fully funded,” Loehndorf said. “People need to be able to count on what they’ve been promised.”
CHICAGO – Frustrated by the city’s failure to properly address serious issues surrounding the so-called “rideshare” industry, more than 300 members of Cab Drivers United/AFSCME Council 31 braved sub-zero wind chills to protest outside City Hall.
“After two years of operating illegally in Chicago, the city’s response has been to allow Uber, a politically connected, billion-dollar corporation, to operate based on a ‘promise.’ This is unlike anything I’ve ever seen,” said Cheryl Miller, a Chicago cab driver and Cab Drivers United/AFSCME Council 31 member.
“Every mom and pop restaurant in Chicago is licensed and inspected by the city, their employees are protected with workers’ compensation and the public is protected by requirements to maintain commercial liability insurance. Yet Uber is allowed to evade most forms of oversight that every other business in the city is subject to,” Miller added.
“Driving a cab used to be a pathway to the middle class. I support my family, my children and my community,” said Ismail Onay, Cab Drivers United/AFSCME Council 31 member and longtime Chicago cab driver. “Yet while we pay an incredibly high price to meet the standards the city sets, the city is allowing tens of thousands of nonprofessional drivers to operate the same as a cab with none of the costs and none of the accountability.”
Miller vowed that the union would not rest until the public and drivers are protected. “It’s unbelievable that the city has failed so miserably to act to stand up for its own residents, workers and visitors,” she said.