African-Americans pay a high price when public-service jobs and collective bargaining power is lost. This is a grim picture drawn in human terms in a profile by The New York Times of Miami public-service workers who are black and trying to make it in a state whose anti-union governor has been cutting public services and undermining workers’ rights by attacking their unions.
For millions of black families in America, “working for the government has long provided a dependable pathway to the middle class and a measure of security harder to find in the private sector, particularly for those without college degrees,” The Times report says. “Roughly one in five black adults works for the government, teaching school, delivering mail, driving buses, processing criminal justice and managing large staffs. They are about 30 percent more likely to have a public-sector job than non-Hispanic whites, and twice as likely as Hispanics.”
The problem is endemic not only in Florida but in other states where right-wing governors have gone after public-service workers and their unions, and it goes back many years, as AFSCME Pres. (then Sec.-Treas.) Lee Saunders noted in The Root in May 2011:
“These revelations mean that the plans by radical governors to rob public employees of their rights, shrink pay and benefits, and cut jobs will have a disproportionate impact on black families and communities,” Saunders wrote, adding that “it will get worse if ultraconservative politicians cripple public-sector unions, making them incapable of protecting their members.”
The attraction of public-sector jobs for African-Americans is obvious, The Times points out:
“Many employed blacks are stuck in lower-wage industries that tend to have fewer benefits and higher turnover, which is one reason public-sector jobs – more likely to be unionized and subject to stricter anti-discrimination protections – have been such a magnet for blacks.”
Public-service jobs at the local, state and federal levels dropped with the loss of tax revenues following the Great Recession, The Times noted. Despite a growing economy, those jobs have not grown with it.
“An incomplete recovery is part of the reason,” The Times story said, “but a combination of strong anti-government and anti-tax sentiment in some places has kept down public payrolls. At the same time, attempts to curb collective bargaining, like those led by Wisconsin’s governor, Scott Walker, a likely Republican presidential candidate, have weakened public unions.”
Governor Walker’s anti-union campaign is a story of corporate greed and anti-union sentiment with roots in racism. The struggle of African Americans to escape poverty is mirrored in those developments, and The New York Times story attempts to make their reality understood by us all. Read it here.
The Illinois Supreme Court unanimously ruled that a $105 billion pension change affecting half a million active and retired public employees is unconstitutional.
The law passed in 2013 reduced pension benefits for active and retired employees of the state of Illinois, state universities and teachers outside Chicago, even though the state’s constitution explicitly provides that pension benefits cannot be diminished.
AFSCME and other public sector unions filed suit to overturn the law.
In its ruling, the court rejected claims that the state’s dire fiscal straits justified the pension reductions.
“Crisis is not an excuse to abandon the rule of law,” wrote Justice Lloyd A. Karmeier, who authored the ruling. “It is a summons to defend it.”
The justices noted that lawmakers had failed to keep in place a 2011 temporary income tax hike that boosted the personal tax rate to 5 percent. The increase automatically phased down to 3.75 percent for individuals at the start of the year, reducing annual revenue by $4 billion.
The pension law passed in 2013 would have lowered cost-of-living increases for retirees, extended retirement ages for current employees and limited the amount of salary used to calculate pension benefits, with the effect of reducing the average pension benefit by more than 30 percent over two decades of retirement. Most Illinois public employees aren’t eligible for Social Security and the average pension of $32,000 per year is their primary source of income.
“We are thankful that the Supreme Court unanimously upheld the will of the people, overturned this unfair and unconstitutional law, and protected the hard-earned life savings of correctional officers, caregivers, first responders, teachers, and other public service workers and retirees,” said Roberta Lynch, executive director of AFSCME Illinois Council 31.
The court’s decision will likely affect a lawsuit filed by AFSCME and other unions challenging a law backed by Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel that cuts pensions of city employees and retirees.
Communities nationwide honored the commitment and sacrifice of emergency medical professionals last week, with many calling for the nation’s largest private EMS provider to start respecting its workforce.
From Missouri to California, EMS workers spoke with residents and local officials about their mission to improve patient care at American Medical Response (AMR). High employee turnover, aging ambulances and equipment, and long hours are all too common with private EMS providers such as AMR. Because these issues can put the public at risk, emergency medical professionals are determined to gain a voice at AMR to make sure quality patient care always comes first.
In Missouri, EMT Robert Mills and Paramedic Joey Ford addressed these issues before the Independence City Council.
“As the population of Independence grows, so does the number of emergency calls,” said Mills. “It’s important, now more than ever, that we have an open dialogue between EMS personnel and the city — and between EMS personnel and our employer, AMR.”
Ford added, “We aim to improve AMR for our patients, our families, and your families. With your help, we can get it done.”
Their colleagues at AMR in Riverside County, California, took that message to a local health fair where more than 150 residents signed cards in support of their mission. Many were surprised when they learned of AMR’s 28 percent turnover rate last year.
“We want to raise awareness about our profession and our mission,” said Paramedic Brian Corona. “When people understand what we do, they’re willing to stand with us.”
Negotiations with the company resume in early June, and it’s time for AMR to listen. The licensed professionals working on the front lines every day need a voice at AMR to improve patient care, and residents who depend on their services agree.
SPRINGFIELD, Illinois—Thanks to an energized and organized labor community in Illinois, politicians in big towns and small have taken heed that local right-to-work zones proposed by Gov. Bruce Rauner are not a popular idea. Legislators in the Illinois House let Rauner know the same, when a vote on the measure yielded zero “yes” votes of support and 72 “nos.”
This smackdown of one of the key components of the new governor’s self-dubbed “turnaround” agenda is a stinging rebuke to his anti-labor crusade. Speeches on the House floor clearly exposed the governor’s real goal in promoting right-to-work measures: trying to weaken workers’ voices.
“What right-to-work does, this is the only thing it does, is it gives somebody the ability to freeload,” said Rep. Larry Walsh Jr., a Democrat from Joliet and a 20-year machinists’ union member. “That's what it does. They get the same benefits, the same wages, the same protections as that of a union member. And what that does is destroy the inner-functions of organized labor.”
In addition to pushing the right-to-work scam on local communities, Rauner illegally stopped fair share fees paid by state employees who choose not to join the union but benefit from its gains. He would also like to outlaw political contributions from labor unions, while allowing corporate donations.
“This governor has no respect for unions or the working people who choose to join them,” said Roberta Lynch, executive director of AFSCME Illinois Council 31 and an AFSCME International vice president. “The House of Representatives’ vote of ‘no support’ for his policies should make clear to him that his anti-union plans are not popular with the people of Illinois.”
Activist trainings were held in San Diego, California, Washington state and New York City in recent weeks, taking the AFSCME Strong campaign to the next level.
AFSCME Strong is about engaging members of our union one conversation at a time. Coaches’ trainings occurred already throughout the country. During the next year, we will train 5 percent of our union’s members to become activists. They, in turn, will have one-on-one conversations with their coworkers about the importance of standing up for our jobs, our families and our futures. In this way, we will connect with a majority of our union’s members to fight attacks against our wages, benefits and pensions.
Coaches train activists. Activists reach out to their coworkers, engaging 80 percent of members across the nation and making our union stronger. That’s how it works.
Arabela Corros is a registered nurse in Riverside, California. She is a member of the United Nurses Associations of California (UNAC)/AFSCME Local 1199 and an active steward in her union. In early May, she became one of 164 activists trained during the Nurses Congress held in San Diego. Participants were from UNAC, Ohio Council 8, and the Hawaii Government Employees Association/AFSCME Local 152, among others.
“I feel inspired and empowered with the knowledge and training I obtained during the seminar,” Corros said. “I have always been an advocate for fairness and equal rights. Having a good knowledge of individual rights and responsibilities will make me a better person and an effective activist and leader. I want to help our union grow for the future of our kids.”New York City
More than 130 activists from District Council 37 were trained on May 2nd. With a contract fight at The City University of New York, ongoing campaigns to protect public services, and a fight for pay equity on the line, the AFSCME Strong training could not come at a better time.
As part of the training, the New York activists went to more than 30 worksites to hear firsthand from AFSCME members in 10 different locals on the issues important to them and their families. They held conversations with more than 140 workers on these sites and signed up 100 new PEOPLE members, with 70 percent at the MVP level.Council 28
Washington Council 28 held a training on April 11 during which 100 AFSCME members were trained as activists. Held in SeaTac, Washington, the new activists came from nearly all Council 28 locals, representing groups of workers from throughout the state.
One of the training participants, Tracy Stanley, president of AFSCME Local 1400, said her motivation for being active in her union was “knowing what is at stake and knowing there is a real possibility that we could lose many of the rights that took immense struggle to obtain.”
“There is so much to be thankful for to those before us,” she added. “Many paid the high price of activism with their freedom; some paid with their lives. I believe I owe it to the next generation to hold on to those rights and continue the fight for further economic, social, and political justice for all American workers.”
The AFSCME Strong training was an inspiring experience to her that is already helping her achieve her goals, she said.
“Practicing speaking, and more importantly, listening techniques in a safe environment with other members has given me the confidence to speak in a number of environments where I have been able to share the vision of our union and how unions as a whole benefit not just workers that are union members, but all workers,” Stanley said.
Also, thousands of state employees walked out of more than 80 worksites on May 20 to urge the state legislature to honor negotiated pay raises. Council 28 organized the “unity breaks,” which occurred during lunch breaks at noon.
Nearly 1,000 New Jersey residents, including more than 100 members of AFSCME Councils 1, 52, 71 and 73, had a pointed message for Gov. Chris Christie after he called on public employees to send him a thank you note for paying into the state pension system.
With the governor and his team of lawyers pursuing legal action to break his own law guaranteeing that public employees receive an annual payment into the pension system, the workers showed up in Trenton to demand that Christie honor the law. The message was underscored in the days that followed, with the American Federation of Teachers and New Jersey Education Association running a radio ads; and the Communications Workers crafting a true “thank you” from all residents of New Jersey.
“Dear Gov. Christie, Thank you for breaking the law and skipping pension payments, for destroying services and risking our retirement security to coddle millionaires and corporations with tax breaks and subsidies, for forcing workers to pay more while handing Wall Street outrageous fees for managing the pensions."
The state Supreme Court is slated to rule by the end of June on whether the Christie administration broke the law by failing to make the scheduled pension payments, as defined by the law his administration created.
Thousands of state employees walked out of more than 80 worksites this week to urge the state legislature to end the stalemate and implement negotiated pay raises for state workers.
Washington Federation of State Employees (WFSE) and Governor Jay Inslee last September reached a tentative agreement to fund contracts that included a total pay increase of 4.8 percent (3 percent on July 1, 2015, and 1.8 percent on July 1, 2016). The state House, controlled by Democrats, supports the governor’s budget proposal to fund the state employee contracts, but the state Senate, controlled by Republicans, continues to reject the agreements.
The statewide walkout occurred during lunch breaks at noon on Wednesday, May 20. Called “Unity Breaks” by WFSE members, the walkout was the largest coordinated job action since WFSE’s successful strike in 2001.
The coordinated effort comes a week after a salary-setting board approved 11 percent raises for legislators. “Senators who are getting an 11 percent pay raise shouldn’t be playing games with a 4.8 percent raise for a custodial worker, or food service worker, or a caregiver for the mentally disabled,” said Tim Welch, WFSE public affairs director.
Thornton Alberg, a Licenses & Inspections employee and WFSE vice president, added, “We took pay cuts, we took furloughs. It’s been hard ... we’re just falling further and further behind.” These would be the first pay raises for state employees in seven years. For two of those years, state workers took 3 percent pay cuts, furloughs and layoffs.
The demonstration included rallies inside the Department of Labor office and Department of Social and Health Services building, where more than 500 combined employees waved signs that read, “Fund public services & public employee contracts,” and “I have a family.”
Those who have enjoyed reading Dana Milbank’s often scathing and generally humorous column in The Washington Post, where he has skewered pretentious politicians and clueless opinion leaders over the years, were treated this week to his own personal tale of redemption.
After years in the wilderness, Milbank has come home to his union, Local 32035 of the Communications Workers of America, The News Guild.
He left the union a few years ago because he disagreed with a specific policy, he said, but he returned because he believes that our nation needs unions now more than ever, and he cited numerous statistics showing how labor’s decline has led to a crisis in income inequality. Now he is seeing signs of labor’s recovery, and he is jumping on board.
“Straws in the wind suggest a building backlash,” Milbank writes. “On Tuesday, Los Angeles approved a $15 minimum wage, joining more than 17 states and several municipalities that have raised their minimum wages since 2013. Fast food and retail employers, under pressure, have announced increases in low wages covering some 2 million workers.”
He also cited the primary win of union-backed Jim Kenney for Philadelphia mayor this week and labor’s rambunctious opposition to President Obama’s fast-tracked trade deal as evidence that unions are making a comeback.
“We can all see and feel the consequences of labor’s demise. For me and, I hope, for others, it’s time for a homecoming.” You can read his full column here.