Worker Wins Update: April Showers Bring Big Wins for Workers

Workers across the country have stood up in the past month to fight for better wages and working conditions.

Harvard Hotel Workers Make Smart Choice to Organize: Following a two year campaign, workers at the Soldiers Field Road DoubleTree Hotel, located in a building owned by Harvard, voted to organize with UNITE HERE Local 26. The workers will join Harvard dining hall workers as well as Boston-area hotel staff in the local union.

Next Stop for Double Decker Bus Tour Guides: A Union: Workers at a double-decker bus tour company in New York City have voted to join Transport Workers (TWU) Local 100, fighting back against poor working conditions and pay cuts. Local 100 currently represents some 40,000 transit workers throughout New York City.

Casino Workers Go ‘All-In’ on Union: The cards at the Horseshoe Baltimore Casino will be dealt by union members after workers voted to join the National Gaming Workers Coalition, which includes UNITE HERE, UAW and Operating Engineers (IUOE).

Toady’s Lesson at Detroit Charter Schools: Forming a Union: Teachers from three Detroit charter schools have come together to file petitions to be represented by the Michigan Alliance of Charter Teachers & Staff, a local union affiliated with the AFT.

Gawker Writers Submit Stories and Union Cards: Workers at Gawker Media announced that they will be forming a union with the Writers Guild of America, East, AFL-CIO in New York City. Gawker writers cited need for a fair salary and stated clearly that “every workplace could use a union.”

Alaska Nurses Find the Right Prescription, Affiliate with AFT: In a move to strengthen the voices of nurses in Alaska, the Alaska Nurses Association Labor Program agreed to affiliate with AFT Nurses and Health Professionals. With this affiliation, AFT now represents 113,000 health care professionals across the country.

Rutgers Faculty Win Big in Classroom and at Bargaining Table: Nearly 4,700 full-time faculty and graduate teaching assistants signed a new contract protecting members from salary freezes, health care rate hikes and promising a raise in wages throughout the life of the contract. The contract, fought for by members of the American Association of University Professors–AFT, also will provide protections for about 7,000 graduate teaching assistants.

Howard University Physicians On-Call for Better Pay, Benefits: Resident physicians at Howard University Hospital in Washington, D.C., have asked hospital officials to negotiate a new contract with their newly formed union after the National Labor Relations Board upheld the results of its January election last week.

Reposted from AFL-CIO NOW

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One Year Ago. It’s A Memory We’re Not Fond Of.

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It’s not a memory I’m fond of.

But one year ago, I remember watching news reports as the governor of my home state, Rick Snyder, emerged from police barricades after signing the so-called “right to work” bill into law in Michigan.

The whole thing was like a bad dream. Gov. Snyder had said for years that so-called “right to work” — restrictions on union dues aimed at weakening workers’ voices at the workplace — was not on his agenda. Then on December 6, 2012, he changed course, and called on the legislature to pass “right to work.”

With lightning speed, the Republican-controlled legislature went to work. There were no committee hearings, highly unusual for a major bill like this. The bill text was almost identical to an ALEC model bill, but that didn’t seem to faze the legislators.

On December 11, as more than 12,000 Michigan workers raged outside the state house, the bills for both public and private sector workers are passed despite bipartisan opposition, and Gov. Snyder had signed them into law by evening.

That was not a fun day.

After that fight, Working America pledged to continue the fight in Michigan and we have.

Will you stand with us to continue fighting into 2014?

December 11, 2012 was a rough day. But we know what it takes to win in Michigan: hold leaders accountable for their votes, mobilize a team of activists in communities across the state and support candidates that stand with working families.

The assault on my home state hasn’t stopped there. Gov. Snyder, the Republican-controlled legislature, and emergency managers like Detroit’s Kevyn Orr continue to impose a narrow, corporate-friendly agenda on Michigan without regard to the lives and livelihoods of Michigan’s working families.

With your help, we can fight back against the extreme agenda that Gov. Snyder has pushed through and make Michigan the state we all know and love again.

We’ve seen a lot of things we value come under attack in Michigan lately, but we don’t have to stand for it. With your help, Working America can make a difference in Michigan. Help us fight back now.

We really can’t do this without you.

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The Real Reason Detroit Went Bankrupt

As the story goes, the city of Detroit went bankrupt because of $18 billion in long-term debt, in large part caused by pension and health care benefitsA new report, written by Wallace Turbeville and released today from Demos, says that narrative is inflated, inaccurate and irrelevant to explaining the city’s bankruptcy.

Despite what the city’s emergency manager Kevyn Orr, who was hired by Gov. Rick Snyder (R), says, the $18 billion figure is not relevant to the city’s bankruptcy. To emerge from the bankruptcy, according to chapter 9 of U.S. bankruptcy code, Detroit only needs to address its cash flow shortage, a number that even Orr sets at only $198 million. But that number, much like the $18 billion number, is inflated because it goes with extremely aggressive assumptions for economic trends that are very unlikely to represent what really happens.

When projecting costs, governments often create several projections, often reflecting best-case scenarios, worst-case scenarios and some moderate position in between those two. Governments usually choose the moderate option in order to determine their budget projections. But Orr, Turbeville says, has chosen the worst-case scenario and isn’t at all based on a certain liability that the city will face. Furthermore, Orr includes in that total nearly $6 billion of debt from the Water and Sewage Department debt as city liability, despite the fact that this liability is based on an area much broader than the city. The department covers 3 million people in southeastern Michigan, not just the slightly more than 700,000 people who actually live in Detroit.

Turbeville notes that the city’s operating expenses have declined by 38% since the beginning of the Great Recession. During that same time, the city’s pension obligations only rose by $2 million. Health care expenses increased by 3.25%, less than the national average of 4%. The biggest proportion of increased costs for the city actually comes from debt service and financial expenses related to complex Wall Street investments that amounts to more than pension and health care increases combined. Other key components of the city’s deficit are:

  • A significant decline in revenue based, in large part, on the city’s declining population, which contributed to declines in tax revenue and property values.
  • A decline of $67 million in state revenue sharing with the city.
  • As much as $20 million annually in corporate subsidies that have provided questionable benefits to Detroit.

The report concludes:

Detroit’s bankruptcy is, at its core, a cash flow problem caused by its inability to bring in enough revenue to pay its bills. While emergency manager Kevyn Orr has focused on cutting retiree benefits and reducing the city’s long-term liabilities to address the crisis, an analysis of the city’s finances reveals that his efforts are inappropriate and, in important ways, not rooted in fact. Detroit’s bankruptcy was primarily caused by a severe decline in revenue and exacerbated by complicated Wall Street deals that put its ability to pay its expenses at greater risk. To address the city’s cash flow shortfall and get it out of bankruptcy, the emergency manager should focus on increasing revenue and extricating the city from these toxic financial deals.

Read the full report.

Reposted from AFL-CIO NOW

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Detroit Retiree Invites Governor Snyder Over for Dinner

Donald Smith is one of the 21,000 retired public workers in Detroit facing pension and health care cuts in the wake of Michigan Governor Rick Snyder and Detroit Emergency Financial Manager Kevyn Orr’s management of the city bankruptcy.

Detroit public workers have already made sacrifices to keep the city afloat, including a $160 million in annual savings from a 10 percent pay cut, health benefit reductions, and a 40 percent cut in future pension benefits, Orr is making public worker pension cuts a key part of Detroit’s restructuring.

Remember, Orr was appointed by Gov. Snyder to be “emergency financial manager,” a position that does not answer to voters yet can overrule any local elected official. Michigan repealed the governor’s ability to appoint such managers in 2012, but Snyder and the legislature simply passed the law again.

Donald Smith decided Snyder needed to see a human face on Orr’s proposed cuts. He wrote to the governor:

Dear Governor Snyder,

My name is Donald Smith and I worked for the city of Detroit for more than 29 years.

Over close to 3 decades of service to the city earned me a pension of about $800 a month.  After taxes and health care expenses are taken out, I am left with very little money each month to pay my rent, buy groceries and to cover my medical prescriptions.

Because of your decision to force Detroit into bankruptcy, I am starting to wonder which of my basic I needs can live without.  I did not bankrupt Detroit – in fact, I went to work every day to make it a better place to live. So I can’t understand why you would ask retirees like me to give up the pension benefits we earned.

If you believe that we can afford to make do with less, then you must not know us. That’s why I want to invite you to my home so you can get to know me and see what life is like for retired city employees.  I hope you’ll join my family for dinner and hear what really matters to us in Detroit.

We are willing to work around your busy schedule.  We look forward to sharing a meal and our perspective with you.

Smith gets $800 a month from his public pension and $1,000 a month in Social Security. “Sometimes I have to make up my mind between getting my medicine and food,” he told WXYZ.

Gov. Snyder refused the invitation when asked.

Take Action: Tell Gov. Snyder to protect Detroit public employee pensions.

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AFSCME Presents GIFtroit: The Story of Detroit’s Bankruptcy

In a humorous treatment of a serious subject, AFSCME is using GIFs—those ubiquitous, short animated photos—to tell the story of Detroit’s bankruptcy.

Featuring goofiness from cat boxing, to “Seinfeld’s” Newman, corgis on a treadmill, Eminem’s out-of-it halftime interview with Kirk Herbstreit and Brent Musburger and 20 more, GIFtroit outlines the facts behind Detroit’s bankruptcy, including Gov. Rick Snyder’s (R) hijacking of state revenue due Detroit, his financial “martial law” edict that strips cities of the power to govern themselves, Wall Street’s role and more.


GIFtroit also explains how more than 21,000 city retires are threatened with pension and health care benefit cuts while current city workers, including firefighters and police officers, face wage, benefit and job cuts.

While retirees and workers are the targets of the budget-gutting advocated by Snyder’s appointed “emergency financial manager,” Kevyn Orr, GIFtroit points out that Orr is:

Living in a taxpayer-funded hotel penthouse suite, spending extravagant amounts on room service and hiring assistants at $225,000 salaries.

Click here to see all of GIFtroit and share it on Facebook and Twitter.

AFSCME and other Detroit unions are challenging the city’s claims in U.S. Bankruptcy Court, and Judge Steven Rhodes is expected to rule on the city’s eligibility for bankruptcy protection later in the fall. Today, more than 100 Detroit workers, retirees and residents who filed objections to the bankruptcy are getting a chance to speak out before Rhodes.

Reposted from AFL-CIO NOW

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Judge: Detroit Bankruptcy Case Turns State Constitution to ‘Swiss Cheese’

The Michigan judge who ruled last week that Detroit’s bankruptcy filing violated the state constitution’s ban against tampering with public employees’ pensions, adjourned a hearing on the case this morning until July 29. Ingham County Circuit Court Judge Rosemarie Aquilina said:

As you all know, my decision last week was because there’s been a violation of constitution. I don’t believe the constitution should be made of Swiss cheese.

Detroit, with the backing of Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder, is seeking federal bankruptcy protection, including the right to cut pensions for the city’s more than 21,000 retired public employees, including police officers and firefighters. Kevyn D. Orr, the city’s emergency manager appointed by Snyder, has called for “significant cuts” to the pensions of current retirees.

Retired Detroit firefighter Dave Parnell told WXYZ–TV:

When is enough enough? I’ve given you 34 years. I’ve given you two ankles, a shoulder and a back. I’m not even sure about my lungs. What else do you need?

Aquilina ruled the bankruptcy violated the Michigan Constitution’s ban on “diminishing” or “impairing” the pension benefits for public employees. Today, she said:

This is a very important issue. I understand that there may be this question of moving it to federal court….But these are state issues. We’re dealing with the state constitution and an emergency manager who is a product of the state legislation.

Snyder and Orr and the state’s attorneys are asking the state Court of Appeals to overturn Aquilina’s ruling. But once a bankruptcy filing is made in federal court, legal experts say it generally trumps other litigation in state courts.

Meanwhile, Bloomberg News reports that Detroit’s police and fire pensions asked the federal judge overseeing the city’s bankruptcy to delay the start of the case until the state issues are resolved.

Last week, AFSCME President Lee Saunders revealed that Orr’s legal team two weeks ago refused to meet with AFSCME to discuss retirement issues and, shortly before they filed for bankruptcy, claimed the union would have “months” to address these issues and that meetings would soon be scheduled to do so.”

Public workers are not protected by federal pension insurance. The average public service pension is $19,000 per year. A bankruptcy and possible suspension or reduction in pension payments would result in profound hardship for workers, retirees and their families. Apparently Gov. Snyder and Orr want Detroit’s public-service workers to rely on their children for food and shelter, or have to work until they die.

Reposted from AFL-CIO NOW

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AFSCME and Michigan Working Families Respond to Detroit Bankruptcy Filing

Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder (R) authorized a bankruptcy filing yesterday  for the city of Detroit based on recommendations from financial manager Kevyn Orr, making it the largest city in the U.S. to ever take that step. AFSCME members and other public sector workers were not consulted for input before the filing.

AFSCME President Lee Saunders said in a statement:

Gov. Snyder’s plan to suspend democracy, drive one of America’s largest cities into bankruptcy and deprive workers of their hard-earned retirement security, moved dangerously closer to reality today when without a single negotiation with unions, workers or retirees, Snyder authorized Detroit’s financial manager to file for bankruptcy.

Despite assurances from Snyder’s hand-picked financial manager Orr that AFSCME would have ample opportunity to discuss alternatives, they unilaterally embarked on this treacherous path without meaningful input from those who would be most affected.

Orr had threatened weeks ago that the pension benefits earned by city retirees through their years of public service and in exchange for less pay could not be protected in bankruptcy.  Now it appears he and Governor Snyder are working hard to make good on that threat.  Detroit’s public service employees worked hard and played by the rules, and now their freedom to retire with dignity is in peril.

As recently as two weeks ago, Orr’s team refused AFSCME’s request to meet and discuss retirement issues. Just last week, Orr’s team claimed the union would have “months” to address these issues, and that meetings would soon be scheduled to do so.

This apparently wasn’t the governor’s true intent. According to published reports, Governor Snyder expressed disappointment with this pace to Orr on Monday, July 15, and the very next day, they began the process to rush Detroit into what could be a lengthy and what surely will be a very costly process.

It’s no secret why Orr and Snyder are in such a hurry: a Michigan court is scheduled on Monday to decide whether Orr and Snyder are using bankruptcy as a backdoor around the state constitution’s protection of pension benefits. Clearly, the Governor and the financial manager are eager to sacrifice the well-being of tens of thousands of workers and retirees, in violation of Michigan’s state constitution.

Public workers are not protected by federal pension insurance.  The average public service pension is $19,000 per year. A bankruptcy and possible suspension or reduction in pension payments would result in profound hardship for workers, retirees and their families.  Apparently Governor Snyder and Kevyn Orr want Detroit’s public service workers to rely on their children for food and shelter, or have to work until they die.

Metro Detroit AFL-CIO President Chris Michalakis and Michigan State AFL-CIO President Karla Swift released the following statement:

Every step of the way, the citizens of Detroit were told that they had to give up their right to democratic representation in order to avoid bankruptcy.  Now that this filing has come anyway, it is clear that either state control has failed or that Gov. Snyder and his emergency manager appointee were not honest about their intentions in the first place.

Today’s action can be taken as confirmation that Orr was hired, secretly and ahead of a declared financial emergency, because he is a bankruptcy expert.

As Chapter 9 proceedings begin, Detroit cannot afford any further attacks on working families, who have already sacrificed so much without a say in the process. City workers have already made severe concession to keep the city afloat.  It is time to put the needs of Detroit residents above the interests of out of town creditors.

Image via Ann Millsapugh on Flickr

Reposted from AFL-CIO NOW

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10 Jobs You Probably Didn’t Know Were Union Jobs

Reposted from AFL-CIO NOW

When most people think about union members, they probably picture blue-collar workers in factories. Maybe teachers, police, firefighters and other government employees come to mind.

But workers in many more fields come together in unions to have a voice on the job to improve their lives and the lives of their families—from rocket scientists at NASA (members of the International Federation of Professional and Technical Engineers [IFPTE]) to actors like Alec Baldwin (a member of SAG-AFTRA) and all across the spectrum of work that goes on in the United States.

Here are 10 jobs that you probably didn’t know were held by union members:

1. Fox News camera operator: At local Fox News stations in cities like Washington, D.C., Philadelphia and Detroit, the camera operators and other technicians that keep the network running are members of the National Association of Broadcast Employees and Technicians (NABET-CWA).

2. Urban park ranger: Managing our city parks and playgrounds are AFSCME members like Danielle Clemons, who works at the Bedford-Stuyvesant Recreation Center in New York.

3. Golf Channel audio mixer: From audio mixers to video controllers, many of the people who work behind the scenes to put the Golf Channel on the air are members of the Theatrical Stage Employees (IATSE).

4. Vehicle service mechanicBob Pritchard of the Postal Workers (APWU) is about to retire after working for the U.S. Postal Service since 1980 as a mechanic fixing the massive fleet of postal vehicles.

5. Symphony conductor: Musical Artists (AGMA) member James Levine hasn’t let spinal problems and multiple surgeries dethrone him as the leader of the Metropolitan Opera and, as the New York Times called him, one of the greatest living American conductors.

6. Comedian: Groundbreaking comedian and actress Phyllis Diller, who passed away in August, was the honorary president of the Variety Artists (AGVA) since 1996.

7. BakerDaniel Wood helped lead bakers at the West Main Street Panera Bread franchise in Kalamazoo, Mich., in becoming the first of the company’s locations to unionize, joining the Bakery, Confectionery, Tobacco Workers and Grain Millers (BCTGM).

8. Saxophone player: Many professional musicians, like Grammy-award-winning jazz saxophone player David Sanborn, are members of the American Federation of Musicians of the United States and Canada (AFM).

9. Social workerAFT members like Grace Decker, who works at the Kansas Department of Social and Rehabilitation Services, investigate alleged abuses of vulnerable adults such as senior citizens or adults who have mental or physical disabilities.

10. Super Bowl champion: Outspoken marriage equality advocate and star player for the 2013 Super Bowl champion Baltimore Ravens Brendon Ayanbadejo is a proud member of the NFL Players Association (NFLPA).

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On Eve of Michigan Primary, Workers Remember Romney’s Plan for Autoworkers

As this video shows, 2009 was a time of great uncertainty for Michigan’s autoworkers. It closed out a decade of enormous economic pain for the state – 27 percent of all private sector jobs lost in America since 2000 have been from Michigan. But thanks to decisive action and the restructuring agreements between the government and management, as well as the great sacrifices of unionized auto workers, the American auto industry is once again profitable, and is giving a lift our whole economy.

This is great for 99 Percent of us, but not so great for one man: Mitt Romney. The presidential candidate suggested in a 2008 op-ed that the best way to handle the auto industry would be to “let Detroit go bankrupt.” This wasn’t a small part of the piece: the title of the op-ed was “Let Detroit Go Bankrupt.”

Let’s look back and see how right Romney was:

If General Motors, Ford and Chrysler get the bailout that their chief executives asked for yesterday, you can kiss the American automotive industry goodbye. It won’t go overnight, but its demise will be virtually guaranteed.

But what about the workers, who depend on their jobs in the auto industry to pay for groceries and support their families? Romney refers to them here:

A managed bankruptcy may be the only path to the fundamental restructuring the industry needs. It would permit the companies to shed excess labor, pension and real estate costs.

He closed out with:

In a managed bankruptcy, the federal government would propel newly competitive and viable automakers, rather than seal their fate with a bailout check.

Look, no one is saying that Romney should have been able to predict the future. But what comes across so clearly in this op-ed is Romney’s callousness and disregard for the workers who would be most affected by the industry’s fate.

We’ve come to expect a level of enmity towards union workers from Republican candidates – it’s no surprise given their corporate sponsors – but in this case it’s extra offensive. One of the key reasons the auto industry survived was the givebacks and sacrifices made by UAW workers: freezing wages, waiving the right to strike for six years, reduced pay and benefits for new hires, and more.

It’s very unlucky now for Mitt Romney that his presidential campaign rests on the votes of those same Michigan workers who are now receiving paychecks thanks to the sacrifices they made in 2009 and 2010, the “excess labor” Romney wanted to “shed.” I wonder if he’ll refer to them as “excess labor” when he is pleading for their votes over the next two days.

Photo from UAW-GM on Facebook.

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Michigan Fights Real “Big Government,” Heads to Repeal EFM Law

2011 was a big year for citizens amassing enormous numbers of signatures in order to undo injustice – see Ohio’s 1.3 million names to repeal Senate Bill 5 as the prime example. Driving the citizen outrage in neighboring Michigan is Public Act 4 of 2011, more commonly known as the Emergency Financial Manager (EFM) Law.

Governor Rick Snyder and his allies in the legislature all ran in 2010 on the principles of “small government,” but once in office pushed the most “big government” policies possible. PA 4 allowed the state to strip away local control from cities and towns and hand the reins over to an Emergency Financial Manager – appointed by Gov. Snyder.

Now, thanks to the tireless work of Michigan organizers, PA 4 could join SB 5 on the scrap heap of history:

President AFSCME Council 25 Al Garrett, who has been instrumental in the petition drive to suspend Public Act 4, announced the campaign has gathered “in excess of 170,000″ signatures.

He said the petitioners are looking to Jan. 18 as the day to take their petitions to Lansing. They hope to gather more than the required number — just shy of 162,000 — in order to ensure enough valid signatures.

Garrett finished with a fiery speech to get out the petition drive:

“Stand up, look the man in the eye and say, ‘Not on my watch,’” he said.

“Our mothers and fathers fought all of the right of one thing: self determination. It would be unacceptable and unnecessary for black folk in the city of Detroit, for white folk in Ann Arbor … to allow anybody that was elected by chance to dictate what happens in their community.”

Under the EFM law, managers have made unilateral decisions that fly in the face of the wishes of the residents of the municipalities they are allegedly trying to fix. Just one example: In Pontiac, Michigan, EFM Michael Stampfler canceled a union contract for police dispatchers last June; now, he is giving Pontiac firefighters the choice of merging with the neighboring town’s fire department or losing their jobs outright.

In Benton Harbor, one of Michigan’s poorest cities, EFM Joseph Harris came under a great deal of scrutiny after disrespectful comments about the city’s residents were caught on tape.  When Working America canvassers came to Benton Harbor, we found enormous dissatisfaction with the situation. Residents couldn’t understand why Governor Snyder was giving them a false choice – dictatorship or dysfunction? 85 percent of people we talked to became members of Working America during our canvass there.

The possibility of an EFM in Detroit is the last straw for many Michganders. Hundreds of citizens, labor leaders, and lawmakers gathered Monday to protest the dictatorial threat.

So will this undemocratic, hugely unpopular policy be repealed in Michigan? Republican legislators are hoping not. That’s why they are “retooling” so that it will still be in effect even if a referendum makes it to the ballot. Seems that for the Michigan GOP, democracy is only okay if things go their way.

Photo by swskeptic on Flickr, via Creative Commons.

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