Can you put a price on the safety, happiness and education of a child? Child care is an absolutely critical service. The women and men who do this kind of work aren’t just part of our economy, they’re part of our families and communities.
But wages for child care providers aren’t in step with the value of the work they do. Hourly wages in the child care sector are just $10.31, which is 39 percent lower than the national average for hourly earners. One in seven child care providers lives in a household with an income below the poverty line. The cost that parents pay for child care has skyrocketed in the past 25 years, but real wages for the workers who spend time with our children haven’t risen at all.
That’s why we recognize May 1 as Worthy Wage Day. Since 1992, on this day, child care providers and their allies advocate for better wages and working conditions. This is a problem that must be addressed at every level. State programs are underfunded, labor laws have historically undermined the value of child care workers, and our culture does not always recognize the importance of child care services.
AFSCME represents thousands of child care workers who devote their careers to enriching the lives of children. We stand in solidarity with our sisters and brothers as they call for respect and a living wage.
Cindy and Doug Cook couldn’t be more excited about attending AFSCME’s 42nd International Convention in Las Vegas this July. Not only because they’ve been AFSCME members for a combined total of more than 60 years. And not just because they’re big believers in what workers can achieve when they stand together, even in the face of a great challenge. Their trip will be unique for a very personal reason.
Cindy and Doug met at the AFSCME International Convention in Las Vegas in 2002. They were married in Las Vegas in 2006. So this year they’re going back to celebrate the 14th anniversary of their meeting and their 10th wedding anniversary. Their union was “literally union-made,” they say, and they are looking forward to sharing this special moment with their AFSCME sisters and brothers.
How they met
On the Sunday before Convention 2002, Doug was swimming in the pool at the Paris Hotel when he first set eyes on Cindy. “I saw this beautiful girl sitting by the pool, dangling her feet in the water,” he says. “So I swam up to her and we started talking.”
“We clicked immediately,” Cindy recalls, “and we ended up talking for over two hours. He made me feel like I had known him all my life.”
At the time, Cindy was an employee of the City of Erie, Pennsylvania, and president of AFSCME Local 2206 (Council 13). Doug was (and still is) an equipment operator for Thurston County, in Olympia, Washington. He’s also a member of AFSCME Local 618 (Council 2), where he has served as vice president. Though they came from opposite sides of the country, they had much in common, including their union activism. They spent the rest of the week together, attending convention activities and getting to know each other.
“It was then that our friendship was born,” Cindy says.
They never quit on each other
After the 2002 Convention, Doug and Cindy went back to their respective homes. For the next three-and-a-half years, they did the “East Coast/West Coast thing,” as Cindy puts it. At first, they visited each other in Las Vegas, then Doug visited Erie. Cindy then visited Olympia. Through 2005 they spent all of their vacation time traveling back and forth.
“When we weren’t together, we spent hours on the phone,” Cindy recalls. “It was crazy because we both realized we had found something completely unexpected and extremely rare and special.”
Their love for each other resulted in the decision to spend the rest of their lives together. “It was frightening to leave my family and friends, which I will always miss,” Cindy says, “but it turned out to be the best decision of our lives. We’ve never been happier.” Cindy found a job with the Washington State Department of Ecology and, within one month, moved to Washington. They bought a house and married on Feb. 19, 2006. She is now a member of AFSCME Council 28.
While the past 10 years have been full of happiness, the couple has not been free from struggle. In 2012, Doug was diagnosed with a type of cancer called non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. For the next six months, he would have to undergo chemotherapy at the University of Washington in Seattle, 60 miles away.
“Going through something like that changes your whole outlook on life,” Cindy says. “Going through this struggle made us stronger and drew us even closer together.”
“How Cindy stuck with me was remarkable,” Doug says. “She was by my side at every appointment, every test, and every session of chemotherapy.”
Thanks to her union contract and her co-workers, Cindy was able to use shared leave on the days that Doug was being treated. It’s what allowed her to be by Doug’s side. “It was so important for me to be with him,” she says, “because we had no idea what the future held for us.”
“Cindy was unbelievable,” Doug says. “Her love and support is why I’m here today.”
We go to work every day to make a living — but all too often, the workplace takes lives instead. Today is Workers Memorial Day, a time to reflect on the working women and men who were killed or injured on the job.
Thanks to the efforts of advocates and activists in the labor movement, workplace safety has improved considerably in recent decades. We lobbied for laws and negotiated collectively for contracts that require protective equipment and thorough safety procedures. But the battle isn’t over.
In 2014, the most recent year for available statistics, more than 4,800 working people died as the result of workplace accidents and injuries, and another 50,000 died from diseases caused by workplace exposure. That’s 150 lives lost every day as the result of unsafe working conditions. (This is the highest annual total since 2008.)
Some workers are at higher risk than others. Latino workers, particularly those who were born outside the United States, are more likely to be injured or killed on the job than the general population. In 2014, 748 Latino workers died as the result of workplace injury.
As public sector employees, AFSCME members are also at particular risk. Federal OSHA standards do not cover many state and local government workers, and public sector employees are 56 percent more likely to be injured on the job than our private-sector counterparts. Although some states have state OSHA laws that protect public sector workers.
It’s up to all of us to make sure our workplaces are safe and healthy. We need strong contracts, comprehensive laws and co-workers who are willing to speak up when they see potential dangers. Let’s put an end to these preventable tragedies.
RIVERSIDE COUNTY, Calif. – Splash Medics has provided life-saving water safety tips to more than 2,000 children since AFSCME Local 4911 members founded the nonprofit in 2015. The group plans to visit another 50 schools this summer and release a children’s book, Toby the Dolphin. This is just part of their effort to reduce the high number of water-related injuries and deaths in their county.
“We’ve had a lot of drownings this year already, and this month there were two kids that drowned in one weekend,” said Paramedic Lisa La Russo, a member of AFSCME Local 4911. “We are working to get education to every school, parent and child.”
Drowning is the leading cause of death for children under five, according to Riverside County Injury Prevention Services. This statistic is no surprise to the front-line Emergency Medical Technicians (EMTs) and paramedics who often respond to emergencies involving children, and many of which are preventable water-related incidents.
Several members of Local 4911 have volunteered with Splash Medics to educate the public on the importance of water safety. EMT Fawn Lawson-Huntington was recently featured on CBS Local 2. "We're teaching kids to always swim with a buddy, always have a grown-up watching, no running, and wear your life vest,” Lawson told reporter Laura Yanez.
“It only takes seconds for a child to drown,” Lawson-Huntington added. “And I know how tempting the cell phone is, but even in the moments that you’re answering a phone call [or] scrolling through Facebook, a child could drown.”
These tips are highlighted in their upcoming children’s book, Toby the Dolphin and Water Safety. Splash Medics will read their book to school children at Amelia Earhart Elementary School in Indio, Calif., on May 4 at 9 a.m.
As a correctional officer at the Lebanon Correctional Institution, about 30 miles from Cincinnati, Phil Morris knows that safety and security means having someone to watch your back. That’s the way it is with the members of his union, Ohio Civil Service Employees Association/AFSCME Local 11.
They are stronger because they’re united, watching out for one another.
“We’re what actually protects our membership from wrongdoing or harm from management,” explained Morris, president of OCSEA Chapter 8310, which represents approximately 300 employees at Lebanon, a Warren County facility operated by the Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction.
So it should be no surprise that when Morris participated in an AFSCME Strong blitz in early April – having one-on-one conversations with other officers in his unit – all but the six new hires were already members of his union. The new hires all signed up.
“We’ve maintained 100 percent membership at my institution,” Morris said. “Fair share is really not an option. We’ve never had anyone who said, ‘I want to be fair share.’”
Two officers who happened to be fair share (and who worked a different shift than Morris), became members during the blitz.
Having one-on-one conversations with his fellow union members was an exercise in building unit cohesion. “They were committed,” he explained, “but I wanted to get back to the roots of what we are, and we are the grass roots. A lot of time that gets forgotten. Sometimes, we have to get back to the basics and let folks know we are here – that we do have our fingers on the pulse, and we do care. We want to know what’s up with you.”
What’s up with the officers in his unit has a lot to do with being safe in an inherently dangerous environment. A security staff of approximately 350 is responsible for maintaining the peace in an institution that houses 2,478 inmates.
Morris has worked there nearly 12 years – his first union-represented job. He works the first shift, lasting from 6 a.m. to 2 p.m. With much gang activity to watch out for, safety is always on his mind. “At the end of the day, we want to be able to walk out the same way we walked in – on both feet,” Morris said. “We are surrounded by folks who have nothing but time.”
During the two-day AFSCME Strong blitz, Morris and other members reached out to more than 200 members to conduct “assessments” – holding one-on-one conversations about issues that concerned them. Not unexpectedly, many of those conversations involved the state’s efforts to sell state-run correctional facilities to for-profit companies.
“Gov. Kasich had already put five prisons up for sale in his first term as governor of Ohio,” Morris said. One was later sold.
“They’ve already privatized our food service with Aramark,” he added. Inmate medical care is also heavily outsourced. “What they say is that it’s to save money, but in our eyes it’s to cut corners. You get what you pay for.”
The conversations also turned to more positive subjects, particularly education benefits provided through OCSEA. Partnering with a community college, the union is able to provide a program that provides free college education to eligible members who are accepted into the school. Vision and dental insurance are other benefits that he discovered “a lot of them either didn’t know about, or forgot.”
The AFSCME Strong blitz “is a good grass-roots campaign,” he said. “It was good to get out there to talk to the folks, one-on-one, and not being made to feel they were being pressed for information. It was good to revisit some of the things we don’t talk about enough. We wanted to make sure their voices were heard.”
He said the members also appreciated the interest he showed by asking about their concerns. “They enjoyed that casual, if not intimate, experience of being able to talk without being pressed or put on the record,” he said. “Candid would be the better term.”
As a correctional officer, Morris will never quit caring for the women and men who work with him, making sure they’re safe. Nor will the two-term chapter president ever quit on his union, whose members depend on one another to build strength in the workplace.
“One common thread they all agree on is having a voice in the workplace,” he said. “They know that we are there, and we’re there to help.”
The world lost a musical icon last week. You’ll read about his impact as a musician and an entertainer elsewhere, but let’s take a second to look at Prince’s career-spanning fights on behalf of working people.
For more than 40 years, Prince was a union member, a long-standing member of both the Twin Cities Musicians Local 30-73 of the American Federation of Musicians (AFM) and SAG-AFTRA. Beginning with “Ronnie Talk to Russia” in 1981 on through hits like “Sign o’ the Times” and later works like “We March” and “Baltimore,” Prince’s music often reflected the dreams, struggles, fears and hopes of working people. (And he wasn’t limited to words, his Baltimore concert in the wake of Freddie Gray’s death raised funds to help the city recover. I got to sit on the right side of the stage, high in the rafters, to watch joyously.) Few of America’s artists have so well captured the plight of working Americans as Prince, putting him in the line of artists like Woody Guthrie and Bruce Springsteen as working-class heroes.
Ray Hair, president of AFM, spoke of Prince’s importance: “We are devastated about the loss of Prince, a member of our union for over 40 years. Prince was not only a talented and innovative musician, but also a true champion of musicians’ rights. Musicians—and fans throughout the world—will miss him. Our thoughts are with his family, friends and fans grieving right now.”
And this is a key part of his legacy. Prince was deeply talented and could have easily made his success without much help from others. And yet he was a massive supporter of other artists, from writing and producing songs for artists as diverse as Chaka Khan, the Bangles, Sinéad O’Connor, Vanity, Morris Day and the Time and Tevin Campbell (among many others) to his mentoring and elevating of women in music, to the time where he put his own career on the line in defense of the rights of artists. And every musician that came after owes him a debt of gratitude.
The music industry has a deeply troubled past, with stories of corporations exploiting musicians, especially African American musicians, being plentiful enough to fill libraries. At the height of his popularity, Prince decided that he would fight back. He was set, financially and career-wise, and had nothing to gain from taking on the onerous contracts that artists were saddled with when they were young, inexperienced and hungry. If he lost everything by taking on the industry, he still had money and fame to rely on. But he knew this wasn’t true for many other musicians, and Prince was always a fan of music, and he knew that taking on this battle would help others. So he took on the recording industry on behalf of music. On behalf of the industry’s working people—the musicians themselves.
And it cost him his name and his fame.
In the ensuing battle, Prince famously renounced his birth name and began performing under an unpronouncable symbol instead of a name. He fought the company at every turn, even writing the word “slave” on his face in protest of the conditions he worked under. He said: “People think I’m a crazy fool for writing ‘slave’ on my face. But if I can’t do what I want to do, what am I?” For the rest of his career, which never recovered to his early heights, he continually fought to change the way that record companies treated artists, explored new ways to distribute music to fans and battled to give artists more control and more revenue for the art they create. In a still-changing musical landscape, Prince was one of a handful of artists who helped shape a future where musicians, working people, get the fruits of their labor.
In honor of Prince’s passing, check out his performance, an all-time great, at the country’s largest annual event brought to you by union workers, the Super Bowl.