Working families are getting squeezed in all kinds of ways these days, but few expenses are more frightening than higher education. Whether you’ve got kids graduating high school or you’re looking to move forward in your own career, you’ve probably wondered how you’ll manage to keep up with skyrocketing tuition costs.
There’s less to worry about thanks to a new benefit for AFSCME members and families. Starting this summer, every member or retiree member, as well as spouses, children, grandchildren and dependents of AFSCME members, can earn a two-year degree online for free. That’s right — free college just for being a member in good standing.Flexible Options for Working Families
AFSCME is partnering with Eastern Gateway Community College to provide all members and families access to their classes online. Eastern Gateway is an accredited, non-profit public institution with campuses serving eastern Ohio, but AFSCME members can enroll in the distance learning program from anywhere in the country. Right now you can earn an associate degree in Business Management or Criminal Justice, or you can complete an Associate of Arts program that can be transferred to a four-year college.
The enrollment process is simple. Just visit freecollege.AFSCME.org and verify your AFSCME membership. From there, you can fill out a simple Eastern Gateway application form and an online financial aid form. You will be contacted by an enrollment advisor to help you with any questions you may have about enrollment. You may also contact your local or council. AFSCME members around the country are being trained to help one another through the process.
This program has been running in Ohio for a year now, and hundreds of AFSCME members and their families are already taking advantage of it.
Beverly Payne, a member of Local 416, OAPSE/AFSCME, has been working full time as the secretary and transportation coordinator for a preschool for 30 years. She spends her days helping children get a start on learning. But her own educational goals were on the back burner until now.
“I had wanted to go to college a long time ago, but with four children I never had time,” she says. “When I heard about this program I decided to finally get my degree at 71 years old.”Learning Without the Price Tag
Payne wasn’t sure how she’d adjust to student life after 50 years in the workforce. But the program allows her to take one class at a time, and her professors have been very supportive. The online, self-paced classes offered in the program are broken into two eight-week sessions each semester. She’s acing her classes so far — and her positive experience has encouraged her family members to enroll, too.
“My daughter is enrolled right now, and another daughter is looking into it, as is my granddaughter,” she says. A third daughter has her bachelor’s degree but is thinking of taking additional courses to further her career.
The Department of Education estimates that the average associate’s program costs $3,440 per semester. It would ordinarily cost tens of thousands of dollars to put six family members through school — but thanks to AFSCME, Beverly Payne can do it simply by keeping up-to-date with her union dues.
“Public service workers are passionate about their jobs. They strive to do better for their families and their communities, and they want their union’s help to grow personally and advance professionally,” said AFSCME Pres. Lee Saunders. “We know the important role education plays in the lives of so many working-class families — helping them learn new skills and climb the ladder of opportunity. This partnership will help public service workers and their families prosper, and live their best lives.”
Glenn Sago has been fighting for his union rights for 10 years, and he’s been through plenty. “It’s a lot of work,” he said. “It’s all worth it to know that your rights will be respected. I became a steward to stand up and make sure the contract was followed.”
But he’s never seen anything like the current situation in Illinois, where he works for the state in law enforcement support services.
Since Gov. Bruce Rauner was elected in 2014, AFSCME members there have been under fire like never before. “I’ve done negotiations with the previous governor, but this is a different battle,” says Sago, an executive board member at Local 448 (Council 31) in Rockford who also serves on the state bargaining committee.
The list of attacks is unprecedented. The governor has held the budget hostage for more than a year, blocked the state from fulfilling its promise to issue back pay to thousands of state workers, and wants to double health care costs and freeze wages for four years to implement his extreme agenda.
AFSCME Council 31's bargaining team members have told the Rauner administration repeatedly that they want to continue bargaining, but he walked away from the table in early January, seeking instead to impose his extreme demands. It seems reasonableness, compromise and collaboration are not in the governor's playbook. He's a billionaire bully, blaming the state's budget situation on working families and contending state workers make too much when, in fact, politicians in Springfield mismanaged the state's funds.We Won't Back Down
In July, the state Labor Relations Board rejected Rauner's attempt to fast-forward a hearing process that will decide whether the parties are ordered to resume bargaining. Roberta Lynch, Council 31's executive director and an AFSCME International vice president, applauded the decision.
“We have been and remain ready to return to the bargaining table, to do the hard work of compromise,” Lynch said. “We want to reach an agreement that is fair to all. The fact that the Rauner administration pushed for this unprecedented short-circuiting of board procedures demonstrates just how fiercely determined the governor is to try to impose his own harsh terms on state employees.”
In the face of Rauner’s anti-worker agenda, Sago and his colleagues are working harder than ever to connect with their co-workers, face-to-face. These conversations are a powerful tool against Rauner’s misinformation campaign.
“Every time Rauner makes statements about us, we are out talking to members and telling them the truth,” said Sago.National Support
AFSCME members nationwide are standing in solidarity with their sisters and brothers in Illinois. “Council 31, your fight is our fight,” Pres. Lee Saunders declared during his keynote address at AFSCME’s 42nd International Convention in July. “Your struggle is our struggle.”
Thousands of Convention delegates agreed. They voted to “stand in solidarity with AFSCME Council 31 members in state government who are directly confronting one of the most fiercely anti-union governors in the country today.”
Members of Council 31 are ready to meet whatever challenges come next. “We’ve stayed the course this long,” said Sago. “We’ve fought over a year and a half at the bargaining table and in the Legislature. It may get to the point that we have no choice but to go on strike, but the members have to vote and make that choice.”Ten thousand rally in Springfield, demand Governor Rauner stop hurting Illinois. (Photo by David Kreisman)
It was a clear, sunny September day when the unthinkable happened. But for Maryland school bus driver Renita Smith, the unthinkable was something she was well-prepared to handle.
Smith, a member of Local 2250 (ACE-AFSCME in Prince George’s County), had just made her third stop of the afternoon, dropping students off at their homes. Then, she said, “My bus started making noise,” and she prepared to pull over and notify her office. It appeared to be an inconvenience, but not a life-threatening emergency.
That’s when she began to smell smoke. And the children did too.
“Miss bus driver! Miss bus driver! We smell smoke!” her students cried out, Smith said. “Miss bus driver, we see smoke!”
Smith immediately pulled over, seeing flames in her rearview mirror. Calling in to her supervisor wasn’t going to help solve this crisis. “I put my radio down and got my babies up and in a straight line in the aisle. I had them hold hands.”
As the fire intensified, Smith led all 20 children safely off the bus and to a neighbor’s yard away from the smoke and fumes. Smith then did the incredible. She went back onto the bus — its windows melting around her — checking every aisle for a sleeping child, making sure all of them had gotten off.
“There wasn’t a bus attendant with me that day to do the count,” she explained of her heroism. “So I knew I had to go back on the bus to make sure I got all my babies.” Because that’s what her instincts and training told her to do.
That’s the “never quit” spirit that AFSCME members bring to their jobs every day, whether they’re bus drivers, first responders or other public service workers. And they do it without expectation of special recognition.
“I was just doing my job and what’s expected of me,” said Smith, herself a mother of two. “Serving my community means that you’re not being selfish. You’re thinking of how to do something for others and not expect anything in return. For God to give me a supernatural power to do what I did and save those babies, I pat myself on the back and say, ‘Job well done.’ I’m proud because my babies are all home.”
And we’re proud she’s a member of our AFSCME family.The charred remains of driver Renita Smith’s school bus. (Photo by Kevin Kennedy, Local 2250/ACE-AFSCME, Prince George’s County, Maryland)
Fighting for justice and fairness is a part of AFSCME's DNA. Throughout our history, our sisters and brothers fought for workers’ rights, women’s rights and immigrants’ rights, among others, to advance justice for working families in our union and around the country.
So it’s no surprise AFSCME supported the Voting Rights Act (VRA), signed by Pres. Lyndon B. Johnson in August of 1965, to erase barriers that prevented Americans from exercising their right to vote.
Yet 51 years after this landmark law, some politicians still seek to drag us back to the old days.
This will be the first Presidential election in 50 years without the full protections of the VRA, thanks to a Supreme Court ruling that said a provision of the VRA was no longer necessary. And a rash of voter ID laws enacted to combat so-called voter fraud quickly followed that ruling. The result could be more requirements for people to vote, fewer days of early voting, long lines at the polls on Election Day and more voters turned away.Labor Rights and Voting Rights: the Same Fight
Voter ID laws make a mockery of our democracy. As Rev. Dr. William Barber said so powerfully during his address to AFSCME delegates at the 42nd International Convention in July, “…labor rights and the fight for voting rights are the same fights.”
At AFSCME we don’t let injustice go unaddressed.
Quentin Hutchins of Local 1644 is a school bus operator in Atlanta. But that’s not all: He also sees the effects of Georgia’s voter ID laws, one of the strictest such laws in the country, and is speaking out.
“Thousands of voters were given the wrong information about where to vote,” Hutchins told the assembled delegates at Convention, adding some who arrived at the correct voting site were not allowed to vote, even if they were in line before the polls closed.
Hutchins won’t allow attempts to silence his family, friends and neighbors. And we shouldn’t either. We need to make our voices heard against voter ID laws. That’s why delegates at Convention passed a resolution calling for the expansion of voting rights throughout the country.Voter Fraud Is a Myth
Let’s be clear: Voter fraud is a myth.
The facts back it up: The Department of Justice found “no apparent cases of in-person voter impersonation” when it reviewed its databases and other sources. Academic studies, investigative reports by journalists and court rulings draw the same conclusions.
Appropriately, the courts have blocked some of these voting restrictions. A federal appeals court recently struck down North Carolina’s voter ID law, saying the state’s General Assembly enacted it after “unprecedented African American voter participation in a state with a troubled racial history and racially polarized voting.”
Similarly, a federal court found Texas’ voter ID law violated the VRA. North Dakota’s voter ID law was blocked by a federal judge who said it unfairly burdened Native Americans. And a Kansas judge blocked the state’s two-tier voting system, which required proof of citizenship to vote in local and state elections, but not in federal elections.Our Democracy’s Sacred Cornerstone
The right to vote is the sacred cornerstone of our democracy. It is your voice. And your vote should be exercised unimpeded.
“We cannot sit silent while the forces against us try to chip away at the progress that was made,” Hutchins said.
He’s right. AFSCME members fight for what is right. That’s our tradition.
Never Quit. That’s the spirit of AFSCME members. It’s who we are — proud, resilient hard workers who get up early and stay up late to keep our communities running.
At our 42nd International Convention this summer, that Never Quit spirit was downright electric, with enough wattage to light up the entire Las Vegas Strip. Several thousand delegates and alternates convened to strengthen public services and our union, preparing to fight for a better future for all working families.
We voiced our solidarity with AFSCME members in Illinois, passing a resolution denouncing virulently anti-worker Gov. Bruce Rauner, who has made the annihilation of labor unions his number-one priority. We pledged the national union’s support in the event of a strike.
We also passed a resolution in support of our sisters and brothers in Puerto Rico and their pension and labor rights. We passed a resolution demanding a Senate vote on U.S. Supreme Court nominee Merrick Garland. And recognizing the importance of two of the nation’s most powerful union’s collaborating together more closely, delegates passed a resolution embracing greater coordination between AFSCME and SEIU on organizing, political and communications efforts.
We also announced the AFSCME Free College Benefit. AFSCME members, their families and retirees can now obtain an associate degree online — at no cost.Why We’re with Her
It’s not every day you get to be in a room with the next President of the United States and hear her share a vision of an economy that works for everyone. It was an honor to welcome Sec. Hillary Clinton to our Convention, to hear her speak with passion about her plans to stand up for working families.
“I can’t imagine how we could run our country if we didn’t have people like you,” she told us, promising, “I will be by your side in this fight every step of the way.”
AFSCME members nationwide will work their hearts out this fall, pounding the pavement to ensure she wins. No question about it: We’re with her.
We have to be. Consider the alternative. This election is a choice between an unstoppable champion and an unstable charlatan. Hillary Clinton is a champion for the middle class, for union rights and equal pay, for affordable health care and retirement security. Donald Trump is a scam artist and hatemonger, whose agenda will destabilize our economy and our country.
We didn’t leave Las Vegas without getting in Trump’s face. He refuses to negotiate a union contract with employees at the Trump International Hotel. So AFSCME went out in the blistering desert heat to rally with our sisters and brothers in Culinary Union Local 226 and Bartenders Local 165, saying loudly and clearly that you don’t make America great by busting unions and attacking working people.
Trump has since settled a dispute with two culinary workers, and the National Labor Relations Board has reaffirmed the union rights of Trump's Las Vegas employees.“What Happens Here…”
You know the famous Las Vegas slogan: “What happens here, stays here.” Well, not in our case. Because what happened at our Convention — a renewed commitment to our union, to never quit fighting for our rights, for public services, and for each other — doesn’t stay there. It comes home with us. We will bring it to life every day in our communities.
As AFSCME members, we’re committed to providing the best possible public services for our communities. That commitment is reflected in the creative ideas and innovations we bring to our jobs, making our communities even better.
Innovation sometimes means sticking your neck out to offer a new solution to a problem that nobody else has thought of, and it can be risky. But the rewards — in the pride that comes from finding ways to bring public services in-house, makes the risks worth taking. Through their innovations, AFSCME members have earned the respect of their employers and their neighbors.
Innovation not only makes our communities better, it makes our union stronger. That’s why we’re honoring four of our sisters and brothers with AFSCME’s first-ever Never Quit Innovation Award. It honors members who have made a difference to their union, their community and even to their state — and beyond.Saving Lives Melvin N. Puu
As a lifeguard and surfer in Hawaii, Melvin N. Puu’s job is to save lives, and he’s saved many. Because saving lives is his calling, he helped create an innovation that will save thousands of lives worldwide.
Oahu’s North Shore has the reputation of having some of the biggest waves in the world, and the surfers who tackle them face serious injury and even death without quick rescue. Watching surfers being knocked off their boards, Puu — alongside a group of other “big wave” surfers and lifeguards — helped pioneer the development and use of personal rescue watercraft.
Their innovative and life-saving idea: attach a “boogie board” to a WaveRunner, produced by the Yamaha Motor Company. They also developed a rescue program and advocated in court for permission to use jet skis in rescues conducted by public lifeguards.
They succeeded. By 1991 the city and county of Honolulu made the use of rescue craft part of its daily operations. Hawaii County Mayor Billy Kenoi also became interested in using the techniques and equipment as a public service. In 2014, the Ocean Safety Division launched the service with a $320,000 budget.
Today, Puu is a water safety officer for the City and County of Honolulu's Emergency Services Department, working in the Ocean Safety Division on Oahu. His union, the Hawaii Government Employees Association (HGEA)/AFSCME Local 152, represents the state’s lifeguards. He is HGEA’s Unit 14 director. And Puu's dedication to water safety doesn't end at Hawaii shores.
Puu helps train lifeguards in the use of the watercraft in rescues, at home and around the world.Building Unity Terry Magnant
Who would have thought that gardening would strengthen a union?
Terry Magnant did.
A certified nursing assistant (CNA) working at the Wisconsin Veterans Home at King, Magnant saw her union devastated after Gov. Scott Walker succeeded in 2011 in stripping away the rights of public service workers to come together in union to negotiate collectively.
Membership declined in the wake of Walker’s destructive Act 10. Magnant knew she needed to keep her sisters and brothers in Local 555 (Council 32) united. They joined together, and as a group they were able to beat back unilateral scheduling changes.
Magnant, who became the local’s president in 2014, then came up with her innovative idea to maintain her co-workers camaraderie: gardening.
So last May, Local 555 members dug in — literally — to revitalize a long-neglected garden on the grounds of the Veterans home. They pitched in to buy and plant hundreds of new perennials. They created a garden that has since come into its second season.
Magnant and her fellow members of Local 555 continue to work with pride to maintain and revitalize the garden. It’s the same way they work with pride to keep their union flourishing — an innovation that has sprouted its own blossoms in a garden of public services.Safety First Eric Wisner
Necessity is often the mother of invention — and so it was for St. Louis sanitation worker Eric Wisner.
Wisner, a heavy equipment operator II in the city’s Refuse Division, sits on the city’s Accident Review Committee/Safety Steering Committee. With 17 years of experience under his belt, he is uniquely qualified to see shortcomings that could lead to injury or death on the job.
As a steward of Local 410 (Missouri Council 72), Wisner is always on the lookout for safety measures to protect his co-workers. Realizing that newly hired employees in his division lacked an adequate training program, he innovated.
In 2014, Wisner led an effort to improve the city’s training program to more safely, efficiently and effectively collect commercial and residential refuse. Today, new hires get two weeks of training on equipment they must operate, and more for more complicated operations.
This year, he also led negotiations to win a 10 percent bonus for workers in training.
Wisner and his fellow AFSCME members work relentlessly to improve safety and increase fairness within his division. That effort involved building strength on the job through organizing, then using that strength in innovative ways to improve the vital public services they provide.Doing It Better, Smarter Barbara Cooper
West Chester University custodian Barbara “Bunnie” Cooper didn't give in to outsourcing — she fought back.
Cooper knew that the employees of her eastern Pennsylvania campus could do their work better and for less money than companies hired from outside. She set about to prove it.
As president of Local 2345 (Council 88) and treasurer of Council 13, Cooper understood the threat that outsourcing (sending jobs to an outside company) posed to her co-workers and fellow AFSCME members. Many were already unhappy that the university often hired outside of the system, rather than promote from within. Now their work was on the line.
It was time to take matters into their own hands. So Cooper identified work slated to be outsourced — including carpentry, heating and air conditioning and cement repair — and had her co-workers select which projects they would like to do. Then she gathered the evidence needed to persuade the university to let her co-workers carry out the work.
The university agreed. Cooper and her co-workers saved the university considerably, even with overtime. In 2015, they saved more than $250,000 on projects that would otherwise have been outsourced.
Rebekah Wright works for the Ohio State School for the Blind. She’s worn different hats there, including in its music department, which is home to the nation’s only blind marching band.
“Those kids are absolutely amazing!” she boasts.
Wright, a maintenance repair worker for the school and member of the Ohio Civil Service Employees Association (AFSCME Local 11), cares about the children she serves and does her best to improve her community one day at a time.
As a mother of three children who is married to a police detective, community safety is also a top priority for her. So when her children’s school several years ago invited parents to fill out child identification kits from the National Child Identification Program, she didn’t hesitate.
“I thought it was a great way to keep track of your children in the event of a crisis,” she says.
AFSCME is partnering with the American Football Coaches Association and National Child Identification Program to provide free ID kits to all of our members nationwide (they will be mailed with the next issue of AFSCME WORKS magazine). The kits come with easy-to-follow instructions for collecting your child’s personal information, including fingerprints and DNA. The completed kit should be kept in a safe place in the home.A Close Call
Dianne Glasco’s children are all grown up. But when she heard that AFSCME was sending free child ID kits to all its members, she thought of her three young grandchildren.
“I would feel safer if my son and daughter did it for their children,” says Glasco, a member of AFSCME Local 3400 (Council 5). “It sounds like it would be easier to find them wherever they were.”
As a child care provider for 11 years, Glasco knows a thing or two about keeping children safe. She works out of her home, where the older children play in an outdoor fenced-in area. From a deck by the kitchen window, she can both keep an eye on the older kids while keeping an ear out for the little ones napping inside.
One day, some of the children were playing outside when a man showed up riding a bicycle. He was a father of one of the children. The child’s parents were divorced.
“He just showed up out of the blue to take the child,” Glasco says. “He wasn’t supposed to be there. And he would have taken the child if I had just gone inside to get water a few minutes before. I had to call the police. It was scary!”‘It’s Better to Be Prepared’
It is estimated that as many as 800,000 children are reported missing in the United States each year. More than half of these children run away from home, while others are abducted by family members or even strangers. Child ID kits can help law enforcement locate a missing child by using key pieces of personal information contained in them. The kits are also the FBI’s preferred method of child identification.
More than 26 million kits have been distributed since the program began in 1997.
“Unfortunately, in this day and age, it’s better to be prepared,” Wright says. “Hopefully there’s never a crisis, but in the event that there is, you have everything compiled in one place to expedite the process in case a child goes missing.”
In partnering with the National Child Identification Program, AFSCME joins several unions and dozens of community, faith and athletic organizations to make sure that every family is prepared and every child is brought back home. It’s easy to gather your child’s or grandchild’s information—and it could make all the difference in the future.