Under Florida Gov. Rick Scott, the state workforce is shrinking dramatically, and that is having a drastic impact on government agencies that are charged with protecting at-risk children, monitoring water quality, and providing assistance to out-of-work Floridians, among other critical services, according to a recent report released by the Florida Center for Investigative Reporting (FCIR).
These cuts significantly curtailed the ability of important state agencies to provide vital services to Floridians, the report concluded. These staff cuts are disproportionately affecting vulnerable populations, including children. One such agency is Florida's Department of Children and Families, the state's Child Protective Services.
Earlier this year, the Miami Herald published an eye-opening series of reports that show how staffing cuts within the department in recent years inhibited the agency's ability to prevent hundreds of deaths among children living in abusive environments.
"After Florida cut down on protections for children in troubled homes, deaths soared. The children died in ways cruel, outlandish, predictable and preventable," the report found.
Those who rely on the services of the Department of Children and Families are not the only victims of the relentless cuts to essential personnel and the vital services they provide to Florida. The Florida Department of Environmental Protection now lacks the ability to adequately monitor water quality throughout the state in order to determine safety for public use. Until the state hired back 250 employees, the Florida Department of Economic Opportunity was unable to implement its new unemployment benefits system. For several weeks, tens of thousands of Floridians had to scrape by without any checks coming in.
Since Scott took office in 2011, he slashed the state work force by a staggering 9.6 percent.
“There is no question we face more of these harmful cuts when the Florida legislative session begins on March 3rd,” said AFSCME Council 79 Pres. Jeanette Wynn, also an AFSCME International vice president. “That is why we must strengthen our PEOPLE program and hold politicians in the state Legislature accountable when they hurt working families and retirees. If we do not stand up to the systematic attacks by right-wing politicians on our state workforce, Floridians from all walks of life will continue to see the quality of life in our state diminish.”
Wal-Mart will have to pay back $151 million in stolen wages to approximately 187,000 employees after the Pennsylvania Supreme Court ruled in favor of workers who were forced to skip breaks and work off the clock.
That’s a lot of money, but it’s a drop in the bucket for Wal-Mart, which rakes in profits in the hundreds of billions. The world’s largest corporation has for years been boosting its profits by shortchanging its already low-paid workers, even closing stores in Canada to prevent unionization.
Wage theft is a common crime that doesn’t get enough attention. Most states do little to protect workers from greedy, overreaching employers. As a result, 60 percent of low-wage workers report that they aren’t always paid for their work. The 187,000 Wal-Mart employees who were forced to work through their breaks represent only a fraction of the problem.
Corporations like Wal-Mart need to be held accountable to the law. That’s why AFSCME joined with the United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) in filing a brief in support of the workers. We are proud to stand with Wal-Mart workers and others who are struggling to earn a living wage.
New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie’s decision to shortchange the state’s pension plans by $2.4 billion is wrong and should be overturned, trustees of the state’s largest pension funds said in a lawsuit filed last week.
The pension trustees’ decision to take Governor Christie to court follows lawsuits filed in June by 14 unions, including AFSCME, over the governor’s plan to undermine the retirement system in order to fund other priorities.
The Board of Trustees said in a statement that they “have been abandoned by their counsel, the Attorney General, who has chosen to side with the Governor by claiming the [existing] funding law is invalid.” As a result, the trustees hired their own counsel “to collect the money owed to the pension funds and which have been diverted to more politically popular causes.”
“We are saying that money is due to the fund,” said Tom Bruno, board chairman of the Public Employees Retirement System. “We have a fiduciary responsibility, and that is to protect the fund, as well as to collect the monies that are due to the fund.”
Trustees of the Public Employees’ Retirement System, the Police and Fire Retirement System and the Teachers’ Pension and Annuity Fund charged in a statement that Governor Christie “has shamelessly broken his word by derailing the proper funding of the pension funds, while at the same time demanding participants endure benefit reductions and higher employee contributions.”
Christie’s efforts to balance the state’s budget on the backs of public service workers, while handing out massive tax subsidies to well-heeled corporations, are indeed shameless. We expect a judge will soon come to the same conclusion.
Less than six months after Chicago taxi drivers first came together with AFSCME to form their own organization, the City Council of Chicago passed a far-reaching reform package that will provide immediate economic relief to every Chicago cab driver.
The Taxi Fairness Ordinance of 2014 will boost drivers’ income by reducing lease rates, reducing fines and providing drivers with a share of taxi advertising revenue. In addition, the Department of Business Affairs and Consumer Protection committed to reducing credit card fees and to revising rules and fines that have long denied drivers’ due process. The average driver will see an annual savings of $5,000-$8,000 as a direct result.
“These reforms won’t hurt the city or consumers,” said cab driver Nnamdi Uwazi, “but they will help the 12,000 drivers in the City of Chicago to provide a better life for our families.”
The measures enacted by the Taxi Fairness Ordinance resulted from demands that drivers identified and proposed to the city in a letter signed by nearly 100 drivers who attended the first meeting of Cab Drivers United (CDU), AFSCME Council 31 last June.
The drivers presented their demands at a series of meetings with the taxi commissioner, spoke out at a town hall meeting, met with dozens of aldermen and organized an action that brought hundreds of CDU activists out on the streets to protest treatment at the hands of city authorities. Their efforts were supported by thousands of AFSCME sisters and brothers who came out to support the call for justice and dignity at a rally during the July national convention.
“This ordinance is a testament to what drivers can achieve when they come together,” said Council 31 Assoc. Dir. Tracey Abman. “Cab Drivers United kicked off in June, signed up more than 3,500 drivers in just a few months, and today we’ve taken this important step forward. We’re excited to keep building our union to help drivers solve problems, win respect and better provide their vital public service to all of Chicago.”
NEW ALBANY, Ind. – After 12 years of a city administration that wouldn’t give them a raise, workers for the City of New Albany have reason to celebrate this holiday season. The rank-and-file members of AFSCME Local 1861 ratified a new contract by a near unanimous vote of 24-1.
“There’s hope now, I think,” said Donny Blevins, president of Local 1861. “This is just the beginning.”
The new agreement between the city and the drivers, laborers and other workers who keep New Albany’s streets, traffic signs, parks and other public areas safely maintained is a huge boost for the southern Indiana local. Workers won a 3 percent raise for 2014, retroactive to the first of the year, with a lump sum payment of back pay.
The contract included a reclassification of current positions effective Jan. 1, 2015, for efficiency and to facilitate the much-needed raises. Workers of all classifications will receive a 2-percent raise for 2015.
Local 1861 members spend their own money on the tools, safe boots and clothing necessary to do their jobs safely and effectively. The new contract increases their reimbursement for tools from $200 to $300 annually, and their clothing reimbursement from $200 to $300 annually. Workers also will get a $150 reimbursement for their work boots.
Other important victories in the contract are expanded funeral leave to include additional extended family members and prorated longevity to date of retirement.
President Blevins says morale improved since the contract ratification.
“This definitely gave the members a booster shot,” he says. “We’re still behind, thanks to inflation. The price of gas went up; the price of milk went up. But there is no comparison to what we had before.”
Reversing a previous ruling, the National Labor Relations Board decided this week that employees may use their company email accounts to organize their fellow workers, as long as they do it on their own time.
The NLRB is an independent federal agency that protects employees’ rights to organize, and it prevents and remedies unfair labor practices.
“Once an employer gives an employee access to the company email system, then the business cannot restrict what the employee emails, so long as it is generally workplace-related and isn’t during working hours,” the NLRB ruled.
The ruling applies to private-sector workers only.
The use of email as a form of communication is very common in workplaces across the nation and “has expanded dramatically in recent years,” the NLRB stated. It now also is a legitimate tool for employees to use to help them organize their fellow employees