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It’s in your state. It’s in my state. It’s in every state. Income inequality knows no state boundaries, and it’s only been getting worse, according to a new report.
The state-by-state analysis, titled “The Increasingly Unequal States of America: Income Inequality by State,” offers a bleak look at America’s fiscal pie. It shows that the richest Americans took a bigger slice in all 50 states between 1917 and 2011 – so big, in fact, that when income growth resumed in 2009 it was nearly all at the upper end of the income scale.
The average income of the top 1 percent, $1.04 million in 2011, was 24.4 times greater than the average income of the bottom 99 percent ($42,694), according to the report, published by the Economic Policy Institute for the Economic Analysis and Research Network (EARN).
In four states – Nevada, Wyoming, Michigan and Alaska – only the top 1 percent saw their income rise between 1979 and 2007. The average income of the remaining 99 percent fell in those states. In another 15 states, the researchers found that the top 1 percent captured between half and 84 percent of all income growth during that same period.
“The statistics are startling,” said AFSCME Pres. Lee Saunders. “They clearly indicate that the rules in America have changed, and that the system is being rigged in favor of the wealthiest. It’s no coincidence that this unfair distribution of wealth has taken place at the same time corporations and right-wing politicians have waged war on unions and the labor movement. They know that a strong labor movement helps level the playing field.”
In 2011, the Rhode Island Retirement Security Act dealt a huge blow to state retirees, partly replacing their secure pensions with risky 401(k)-style plans, taking away their cost-of-living adjustment increases, and raising the minimum age for retirement.
But public employees and retirees with AFSCME Council 94 didn’t take it lying down. They fought back, calling for an investigation into State Treasurer Gina Raimondo’s shady pension practices. And this month, state officials agreed to soften some of the provisions in the harmful legislation.
Among the changes to the original law:
“When the state of Rhode Island threatened our members’ retirement security, we pushed back,” said AFSCME Council 94 Pres. J. Michael Downey. “Now we’ve achieved some important changes to the harmful legislation that was imposed upon us. All things considered, these hard-fought achievements will help us protect retirement security for Rhode Island public employees.”
The agreement reached between the state and its public employees was brokered by federal mediators and must be run through a series of approvals before it is final.
Columbus, Ohio – Gov. John Kasich recently brought his State of the State address, and the entire state Legislature, press corps and a whole pack of half-truths to Medina, Ohio, where the annual speech was held.
Amongst the usual high-flying rhetoric, the governor outlined a few plans that stick out as particularly harmful. He also left out a few pesky facts that are inconvenient to him.
Kasich’s Idea: a huge new round of tax cuts.
The Fact: Kasich shifted the state tax burden off the wealthy and onto the backs of middle- and lower-class Ohioans. In his last budget, the governor gave the wealthiest Ohioans a $6,000 tax break while making the poorest 20 percent of people pay more in taxes. At a time when local governments struggle to make ends meet, is it really a good idea to rob the state of more important revenue?
Kasich’s Idea: “deregulate” the state’s education system.
The Fact: Governor Kasich is more interested in rewarding campaign donors who run for-profit charter schools than helping the state’s students succeed. Since taking office, the governor cut more than $500 million from public schools while giving more money to for-profit charter schools, which are run by some of the most generous political donors in the state.
“I'm really concerned about the drop in food stamps and telling people to go out and get jobs that are not there,” said Judy Smith, a caseworker in Trumbull County and a member of AFSCME Local 458. “They are coming after our unions, pensions and voting rights – this is not the way to build a great state. It's time for a change.”
Voting in America is everyone’s right. In Ohio, however, Gov. John Kasich recently made it harder for certain groups of people to cast their ballots.
Governor Kasich eliminated the so-called “Golden Week,” a period starting 35 days before Election Day when Ohio residents were allowed to register to vote and, at the same time, cast early in-person absentee ballots.
Another bill, also signed into law last week, prohibits county boards of election from mailing out unsolicited absentee ballot applications. This also is intended to make it more difficult for people to vote.
As the American Civil Liberties Union describes: “Eliminating ‘Golden Week’ and shortening the early voting period will needlessly complicate the voting process and place additional burdens on voters. Voters with disabilities, seniors, the homeless, new Ohio residents, people with a lack of transportation, and others such as parents and/or the working poor, among many others, have utilized Golden Week as a flexible way to register and vote simultaneously.”
Rep. Chris Redfern, chairman of the Ohio Democratic Party, said the party would file suit to prevent the measures from taking effect.
AFSCME, along with the Ohio American Civil Liberties Union, opposed the effort to end early voting.
ALEC and other right-wing groups push voter-suppression laws because they are afraid of what a Democratic election will produce when everyone who wants to vote is able to do so. By restricting voting periods, these laws make it harder for lower-income workers, the elderly, the disabled, students, and people of color to get to the polling places.
Of course, for the tea-party groups behind these efforts, that’s the point.
After more than a year of bargaining and two strikes, the service workers of AFSCME 3299 reached a tentative agreement with the University of California (UC). On the eve of a third strike, the 8,300-member unit announced an agreement this week that includes increased wages, safer staffing practices and protections against contracting out.
AFSCME 3299 is the largest union in the UC system, with 22,000 workers at campuses and hospitals throughout the state of California. The service workers unit includes custodians, groundskeepers, and food service and maintenance workers. Ninety-nine percent of these workers are income-eligible for some form of public assistance.
The tentative agreement includes a 13.5 percent across-the-board wage increase during the next four years and affordable health care benefits.
“While this proposed settlement includes compromise on both sides, it honors the contributions that career service workers make to this institution, as well as UC’s responsibility to build ladders to the middle class,” said UC service worker and AFSCME 3299 Pres. Kathryn Lybarger, also an AFSCME International vice president. “Our members are deeply grateful to the thousands of students, faculty, colleagues, elected officials, and everyday taxpayers who stood with us, and stood for the principles of fairness and dignity that bind every member of the UC community.”
While UC service workers secured a tentative agreement, the 13,000 UC patient care technical workers represented by AFSCME 3299 remain in bargaining with UC, with more sessions scheduled for later this week.
“Having seen the unflinching resolve of our membership and the many thousands of Californians who support them, it is our hope that the spirit of compromise that UC finally brought to the table yesterday to reach a settlement with UC service workers will continue in upcoming bargaining sessions with the patient care technical unit,” Lybarger said. “If it does, we believe that an end to this unfortunate, protracted dispute may finally be within reach, and a new period of cooperation can begin."
This is an excerpt from an article published on the Huffington Post. You can read the full version here.
As president of America's largest union of public service workers, I often hear from some politicians and pundits that government workers are overpaid. These folks might be surprised to learn that I agree with them when we're talking about individuals like Ron Packard. As America's highest paid teacher, Packard made more than $19 million between 2009 and 2013, almost all of it paid for by us -- the taxpayers.
Perhaps I should put quotation marks around the word "teacher." You see, Packard was, until very recently, the CEO of K12 Inc., an online education corporation that raked in more than $730 million last year from public school systems and replaced real life classrooms and teachers with virtual ones.
In recognition of their hard work and dedication during hazardous and emergency situations this winter, AFSCME Local 1567 members in Monroe County, Ind., will receive $1,000 each for the next five years.
Awarded for snow and ice removal work in a winter of record snowfalls, the extra cash is especially gratifying for Local 1567 members, whose five-year contract called for no pay raises.
“We haven’t had a weekend off since the 1st of January,” said David Ridge, president of Local 1567. “The council members were very appreciative of the work we’ve done. We take pride in keeping the streets cleared and safe, and we appreciate being acknowledged for the extra effort we’ve made this winter.”
It wasn’t just the council’s benevolence behind their unanimous vote. Good old-fashioned activism served notice that these workers deserved compensation for their extra efforts. With no on-call provisions for ice and snow removal, union members proposed the yearly flat rate of $1,000 for each of the 36 members of the local for the next five years.
Through ongoing discussions with county commissioners and the county council, the local’s negotiating team and AFSCME Committee 962 garnered support for the bonus. County workers explained their lives were essentially on hold since November, serving the county’s citizens on overnight shifts and on-call duty.
All 36 bargaining unit employees will receive the $1,000 on their first April paycheck.
The city of Minneapolis saw the writing on the wall – or, more precisely, the graffiti.
After receiving too many “complaints about the upkeep from lingering graffiti, loose glass and a ‘nightmare’ shelter with missing panels, rust and faded scribblings,” as reported by the Minneapolis Star Tribune, city officials are ending their long-term relationship with private contractor CBS Outdoor.
The for-profit company managed nearly 180 privately owned bus shelters for the city. They made money off the deal, and even more through advertising they pasted on the shelters for beer, luxury apartments and smart phones. But now officials decided that city employees can maintain their bus shelters better than CBS Outdoor.
Starting next month, the shelters will be managed by Metro Transit, a public agency funded mostly with state and federal resources. Metro Transit already owns about two-thirds of the Twin Cities’ bus shelters.
More and more cities and counties are discovering that when it comes to doing the public’s business – whether it’s corrections, Medicaid eligibility or just about anything else, there is no substitute for public employees.