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Just a few years ago, AFSCME members in Ohio were in the fight of their lives. Senate Bill 5 decimated the collective bargaining rights of public workers in the state. AFSCME members and allies went door-to-door, made phone calls decrying the law, held press conferences, and advertised on television and radio.
One story broke through, turned the tide of the debate and ultimately helped AFSCME members get their rights back.
That was the story of Marlene Quinn. In a TV ad, Quinn, a Cincinnati grandmother, told the story of how her great-granddaughter Zoey was saved by Ohio firefighters. She explained that this story was why Ohioans needed to protect firefighters’ rights and fund their operations properly.
Do you have a story to share that could turn the tide for working families in your community? Maybe your aunt’s monthly Medicaid check wasn’t delivered due to an error by a private company. Maybe you have been forced to work well-past retirement because your pension has been slashed. Maybe you have experienced discrimination on the job for being gay or an immigrant. Or maybe you just love your job and want to share why it’s important to your community.
AFSCME members, we need your stories. Community members and allies, we need your stories about the importance of public services, too. Like Quinn’s, your story could be the key to fending off attacks on workers everywhere.
The past year has been filled with success for the LGBT community. Voters in Maryland, Maine and Washington affirmed same-sex marriage at the ballot box. Voters in Minnesota voted down a ban on gay marriage. The Supreme Court heard two cases on the topic. And just a few days ago, Rhode Island passed a bill legalizing same-sex marriage.
Despite the success of the campaign for marriage equality, discrimination in the workplace and housing remains perfectly legal. In housing – a field in which many AFSCME members work – discrimination against LGBT people exists and persists today. Currently, the federal Fair Housing Act does not outlaw discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity. A recent report from the National Fair Housing Alliance found that there was a marked “spike in complaints by people not protected under the federal fair housing law.” Complaints regarding sexual orientation were up 43 percent, and gender identity complaints were reported for the first time.
In 29 states, you can be fired based simply on sexual orientation; and in 28 states, housing discrimination based on sexual orientation is legal. The Employee Non-Discrimination Act was introduced recently in both the U.S. House and Senate. This legislation, known as ENDA, would prohibit most employers from discriminating against employees based on sexual orientation or gender identity.
With the momentum brought on by the string of marriage equality wins, LGBT advocates, union leaders and housing activists are hoping this will be the year to eliminate discrimination in the workplace and housing. If you want to get involved in the fight, join AFSCME Pride’s online network.
In more than 100 cities, hundreds of thousands of people commemorated May Day Wednesday with marches, rallies and prayer vigils, calling for comprehensive immigration reform and a halt to deportations tearing families apart.
From San Diego to Orlando and Las Vegas to New York City, AFSCME members rallied with their sisters and brothers to demand fairness for immigrants and consensus from lawmakers on a plan to overhaul our nation’s broken immigration system. The events – which brought together the leaders of labor, religious and community organizations, as well as immigrant advocates – reflected the passion, momentum and urgency behind the fight to create a path to citizenship for all immigrants.
“We believe in fairness,” Pres. Lee Saunders said at the “March for Citizenship” in Las Vegas. “Aspiring citizens contribute to our culture and are committed to this country. They want to stand with us. They want to join our fight for good wages and better working conditions. They want to speak out for a better life. We are standing by their side to fight for a better life.”
Since the beginning of the year, when Pres. Barack Obama called for comprehensive immigration reform and eight U.S. senators adopted the task of drafting a plan to achieve that goal, AFSCME has been a loud and clear advocate of the need to give immigrant workers a voice on the job, and to give immigrant families the chance to fully participate in the economic, social and political life of our country.
“When new American citizens can freely organize, employers will no longer be able to exploit them,” Saunders added. “They will have a voice at work. And they will be a force for change.”
At a rally in San Diego, Calif., Sec.-Treas. Laura Reyes called on workers to join their voices with those of their immigrant sisters and brothers, reminding them that “when we pull together, we can face any obstacle. As long as our voices are clear and strong, we always win, which is why we will never be silent.”
She also reminded participants what the fight is all about: freedom, opportunity and respect. “We in the labor movement still believe we have the power, and the obligation, to challenge unfair conditions and social injustice. To fully contribute, the 11 million immigrants we call neighbors, family and friends must have a viable path to citizenship.”
Two weeks ago, a group of eight U.S. senators, known as the “Gang of Eight,” introduced a bill that would lead to the most significant changes in our immigration system in 26 years. Among other things, the bill would strengthen security at the border and create a path to citizenship for the 11 million immigrants who currently live under fear of deportation.
Recently, the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee began hearings on the bill.
Nearly 500 retirees gathered recently in San Juan, Puerto Rico, for the founding assembly of AFSCME United Public Workers of Puerto Rico, Retiree Chapter 95. With attacks that retirees in Puerto Rico and all across the United States have faced in the last several years, the formation of this retiree chapter couldn’t have been timelier.
AFSCME Pres. Lee Saunders, addressing an energetic crowd, noted that the founding assembly was “the start of something big.” He praised the retirees for building their chapter into “a powerful force whose presence will be felt throughout Puerto Rico.”
Annette Gonzalez Perez, president of AFSCME Council 95, praised the tenaciousness of assembly delegates in organizing the retiree chapter. Already, AFSCME Retiree Chapter 95 has more than 2,200 members, with more joining every day.
Assembly delegates adopted a constitution and then elected their first slate of officers: Blanca Paniagua as president; Eva Canabal, vice president; Adelina Lopez, secretary; Obdulia Lopez, treasurer. They elected Joselito Cortes Quinonez, Minerva Gonzalez, Miriam Quinones and Roberto Hernandez to the executive board, and Irma Iris Linero Rivera, Rosa N. Rios Lugo and Norma Paniagua as trustees.
After a discussion led by AFSCME economist Brian Kloop on the recently passed and highly damaging pension “reform” law signed by the governor, retirees passed two resolutions. In the first, they vowed to use their collective power to protect the pensions they earned after decades of hard work and service to the people of Puerto Rico. In the second, delegates vowed to join with other likeminded groups to fight cuts to Social Security and Medicare.
Retiree Chapter 95 is the 41st AFSCME Retiree chapter, and its members join the other nearly 250,000 retiree members of AFSCME, the strongest public service retiree organization in the United States and Puerto Rico.
Vermont’s home care providers – more than 7,000 women and men – are celebrating House passage this week of groundbreaking legislation giving them the right to collectively bargain with the state over wages and benefits.
The state Senate unanimously approved the legislation in March. Once the bill is signed by Gov. Peter Shumlin, Vermont Homecare United/AFSCME will petition the state labor board to hold an election. More than 4,000 providers have already signed up with the AFSCME home care union, hoping to make their union the voice of all the state’s providers.
By joining Vermont Homecare United/AFSCME, the providers will be able to step up with a united voice to gain greater dignity on the job and to seek improvements in the critical services they provide.
“Homecare workers like myself work every day to ensure our clients live their lives with independence and dignity,” said Mary Montgomery, a provider from Washington, Vt. Passage of the bill, she added, “is a big step toward ensuring providers like me are given that same dignity in the workplace.”
“As a provider with over 35 years of experience, one day I’m going to need someone to take care of me, and I want them to know the ins and outs of how to care for someone like me,” said Carol Delage of St. Albans, a member of Vermont Homecare United/AFSCME who has lobbied hard and testified on behalf of the bill. “I want to know they are getting paid a fair wage, because if the provider is happy and well-cared for, the consumer is as well.”
Care recipient Denise Hok of Brattleboro, Vt., is also happy that the providers are on their way to having their own union with real strength through collective bargaining. “Because in years past working as a homecare provider in Vermont was not seen as a viable career path, providers that have cared for me have been forced to make the impossible choice between the work they love and providing for their own family,” she said. With final passage of the home care bill, “providers will be treated with the same respect and dignity that I've been shown as a consumer over the last 20 years.”
AFSCME currently represents approximately 125,000 home care providers nationwide, and has ongoing campaigns to represent thousands of other home care providers in nearly a dozen states. Last year, AFSCME members came together in the Green Mountain State to support the efforts of caregivers to form Vermont Homecare United/AFSCME.
Read more about the home care bill here.
One of the last things Gordon Medenica did as director of the New York State Lottery was a big deal: a $25-million contract with the company GTECH to privatize state jobs.
He left his public-sector job soon after and now works for the private contractor, in what has come to be perceived as a questionable case of I-scratch-your-back-and-you-scratch-mine. The Civil Service Employees Association, AFSCME Local 1000, is demanding an investigation by the state legislature and calling on Gov. Andrew Cuomo to ensure greater accountability.
“This has the appearance of impropriety on the face of it and the Governor knows it,” said CSEA Pres. Danny Donohue, also an AFSCME International vice president. “We will only see more of this if the Cuomo administration continues its path of eroding public jobs while playing fast and loose with private contractors at public expense.”
CSEA has called for Medenica’s hiring to be investigated by the State Inspector General and the Joint Commission on Public Ethics. Former state officials are not allowed to do business with the agency they left until two years after their departure, and they are barred permanently from involvement in state contracts they helped negotiate.
The contract GTECH negotiated took the jobs of marketing representatives at the Lottery. Medenica warned Lottery staff before he left that they could not apply for GTECH positions because of “state revolving-door laws.”
Donohue decried Medenica’s hypocrisy. “Here’s a classic example of ‘do as I say, not as I do,’ that we’ve come to expect from this administration,” the CSEA president said. “The public needs some honest answers and accountability.”
GTECH is a gaming technology and services company that is the New York Lottery’s biggest vendor. It is owned by a foreign conglomerate and donated $40,000 to Cuomo’s campaign.
The gambling industry has been very active in New York politics. In fact, since 2005, some $50 million has been spent by the gambling industry in state lobbying and campaign contributions, according to the advocacy organization Common Cause.
An investigation must be conducted into Medenica’s hiring by GTECH to salvage public faith in government institutions. We’re glad CSEA has taken a leadership role in this fight.
Supporters of child care gathered in New York City recently to protest Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s Early Learn Program and urge him to show that kids come first.
Since the implementation of the Early Learn program in 2012, the number of New York City children receiving public child care has probably dropped significantly.
In fact, more than 10,000 children cannot receive public child care because of program and center elimination, zip code discrimination and new vendors unable to receive Department of Health certification for new centers. The forced deterioration of the city’s public child care does not seem to concern the current administration.
Raglan George, Jr., an AFSCME International vice president and executive director of District Council 1707, which represents public day care and Head Start employees, has been holding a One-Man March for Child Care since last fall.
“This attack on our children and poor and working families is contemptible,” George said. “Since the 1960s parents have enjoyed sending their children to safe, quality and affordable child care, and all that the Bloomberg administration has done is attempt to undo more than 50 years of progress under the guise of the Early Learn program.”
Also attending the rally were DC 37 Exec. Dir. and International Vice Pres. Lillian Roberts and DC 37 Pres. and International Vice Pres. Eddie Rodriguez.
AFSCME Pres. Lee Saunders attended the rally and called on Bloomberg to “expand child care so that there’s room for all the children who need it.”
“Give the workers the pay and benefits they deserve for the hard work they do,” he added. “And provide a funding stream that is consistent and stable.”
Because of the mayor’s poor choices, less than 27 percent of eligible children in the city receive subsidized child care. Also, 60 percent of the workers at the center-based daycares don’t have health insurance because they can’t afford it. And Bloomberg wants to close another 60 centers and eliminate 3,000 child care slots.
Before Mayor Bloomberg leaves office, he still has time to do right by our kids and make the children of New York City his priority. We urge him to do so.
The Florida state Senate on Tuesday rejected a bill supported by the right-wing American Legislative Exchange Council that would have kept state public service workers from enrolling in the state’s pension system, a victory for AFSCME Council 79 members who fought the plan.
The action effectively ends debate, as least this year, on overhauling the state’s $136 billion pension plan, which is used by more than 600,000 public service workers, including teachers, police and firefighters.
“Once again, Council 79 members took it to the streets and made the difference,” said Council 79 Pres. Jeanette D. Wynn, also an AFSCME International vice president. “Retirement security for state workers is now protected because of the hundreds of us who came up for Lobby Day and traveled as long as 10 hours away to oppose this.”
AFSCME members, working closely with the Florida Retirement Security Coalition, actively opposed the pension changes, calling legislators and visiting the state Capitol on our Lobby Day to make the case for retirement security.
In March, Florida House Speaker Will Weatherford (R-Wesley Chapel), pushed a bill through his side of the Legislature on a party-line vote. It would have closed the Florida Retirement System’s traditional pension to new employees. The Senate action makes that House bill moot. An alternative Senate bill that would only have given workers a financial incentive to turn to 401(k)-style retirement accounts instead of the pension plan was dropped.
The effort to push public employees away from the state pension plan has its roots in efforts by the right-wing American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) to advance its anti-worker agenda, according to a report in the Palm Beach Post.
The paper reported that ALEC held a conference in New Orleans in August 2011, “where dozens of Florida lawmakers gathered” to hear about its agenda, including pushing workers away from pension plans. “In recent years, the organization has been spearheading efforts nationwide to end governments’ traditional pensions,” the paper wrote.