The University Worker - Notes from the Front (Desk) JUNE 2018 ISSUE #5

Teachers are showing us the way forward
Teachers are showing us the way forward

Judicial Attacks on Workers’ Rights & Wave of Statewide Teacher Strikes

By Cherrene Horazuk, President of AFSCME 3800
 
On May 21, the U.S. Supreme Court, in a 5-4 ruling in Epic Systems Corp. v. Lewis, said that employers can prevent workers from taking collective legal action to fight for better pay and working conditions. The nation’s highest court ruled that businesses can force employees to individually use arbitration, rather than class action suits through the courts, to resolve disputes. The ruling doesn’t apply to workers represented by labor unions.
 
AFSCME President Lee Saunders said, “The Court is preventing workers from building power in numbers. It will now be harder for low-wage workers in particular to have access to justice, to recoup wages they’re owed, to fight sexual harassment and more,” he said. “It is our hope that, in Janus v. AFSCME Council 31, another case currently under Supreme Court deliberation, the justices will choose to re-affirm rather than impair the freedom of working people.”
 
In February the US Supreme Court heard oral arguments in the Janus vs. AFSCME case and will most probably render a decision in June or at the latest in October of this year. Public sector unions are expecting an unfavorable decision given the current composition of the Court. The decision will most likely make every public sector bargaining unit in the United States an open shop, abolishing agency fees for employees who do not sign a membership card and allowing all current members to drop out of the union and pay nothing for union representation if they wish. Big business and anti-worker and anti-union think tanks and politicians are gleeful about these rollbacks of worker protections and rights. We know that living conditions will continue to decline unless working people stand together, stick with our unions and collectively fight for better pay and working conditions.
 
This spring, we saw massive waves of statewide strikes of teachers in West Virginia, Oklahoma, Arizona, Colorado and N. Carolina. In each of these states, striking is illegal, but as Jerry Wurf, former president of AFSCME, said, “There is no such thing as an illegal strike; there is only an unsuccessful strike.” Because teachers in these states struck together and acted collectively, teachers got the best raises they had seen in years and also won significant increases in funding for the impoverished school systems, which will benefit students throughout their states.
 
Strikes not limited to teachers:
In early May, 50,000 University of California workers went on strike against discriminatory wage disparities. In late May, 25,000 Las Vegas casino and restaurant workers attended a stadium meeting where 99% voted to authorize their union to call strike action if negotiations fail. Teamsters at UPS, with the single largest national union contract representing 250,000 workers, are in the middle of a strike authorization vote. Here in Minnesota, the transit workers and St. Paul Federation of Teachers made real contract gains after strike threats this winter. And at the U of M, the administration was only offering one year contracts until the Teamsters began organizing for a strike.
 
Many of us know first hand the power of a strike, having walked off our jobs to demand raises and respect in 2003 and 2007. We also know the challenges of not having ALL of our co-workers join us. We face important issues in our 2019 negotiations that the U has not been willing to move on, like raising the top of the pay scales for our long-term workers, and reducing the number of steps to get to the top. We need to use every tool in our toolbox in order to be successful, and that includes seriously considering the possibility of a strike.
 
 
 
AFSCME Endorses Erin Murphy for Governor
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AFSCME Minnesota Council 5, our statewide union, announced its endorsement of state Rep. Erin Murphy as our candidate for Governor.
 
The AFSCME Council 5 Executive Board on April 19 interviewed three well-qualified candidates to become our next Governor: state Rep. Erin Murphy, State Auditor Rebecca Otto and U.S. Rep. Tim Walz.
 
The Board representing Council 5 members on Thursday endorsed Erin as the candidate who most shares our values, and has the best plan to win in November.
“Erin Murphy has a strong record of supporting workers, our families and our rights,” says AFSCME executive director John Westmoreland. “We’re confident Erin will stand up to the billionaires and corporate CEOs trying to take away our freedom to negotiate a fair return on our work and trying to silence the power of workers’ collective voices.” “Erin believes in public service and knows that workers are the ones who make our cities, counties and state run well and provide our great quality of life here in Minnesota,” says AFSCME Council 5 president Judy Wahlberg. “She will listen to workers and make sure our crucial public services are funded, rather than focus on giving tax breaks to the rich and to big corporations who are trying to take away workers’ rights.”
 
 
"The people of AFSCME are working hard every day to build Minnesota's future," Erin Murphy says. "To have earned the support of this mighty force is testament to our belief in one another and what we can accomplish when we stand together and fight for working people. To me, as a person of labor, it is deeply satisfying, and I am ready to fight for all of us."
 
State Rep. Erin Murphy is a nurse and former lobbyist, organizer and executive director of the Minnesota Nurses Association. She serves on the House Health and Human Services Finance Committee and the Ways and Means Committee and is the former Majority Leader of the Minnesota House.
 
 
 
I Work with Mark Janus. Here’s How He Benefits from a Strong Union.

By Donnie Killen (from Labor Notes May 11, 2018)

Like everyone else in the labor movement, I’m nervously awaiting the Supreme Court ruling in Janus v. AFSCME Council 31, which would weaken public sector unions by letting workers receive the benefits of  representation without contributing toward the cost.
But I’ve got a unique vantage point: I work in the same building as the plaintiff, Mark Janus. 
 
We’re both child support specialists for the state of Illinois, where we do accounting on child support cases. I do this work because it’s fulfilling to help kids and single parents get the resource

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s they need to support themselves.
 
What convinced Mr. Janus to join this destructive lawsuit? Your guess is as good as mine. I do know it’s much bigger than him. He’s the public face, but this case is backed by a network of billionaires and corporate front groups like the National Right-to-Work Foundation.
 
But the truth is, even Mark Janus himself benefits from union representation. Here are a few of the ways:
 
1. Without our union, Mr. Janus’s job would probably have been outsourced by now.
A drastic provision in the state’s “last, best, and final offer” in 2016 would have given Governor Rauner the right to outsource and privatize state employees’ jobs without accountability. Our union is all that’s preventing critical public services from being privatized.
Our agency would be at particular risk, because Illinois already has a longstanding contract with a scandal-ridden, for-profit corporation called Maximus to perform some of our agency’s functions. Their concern is for profit, not kids.
If the governor could get away with it, it’s very likely he would expand the Maximus contract to privatize jobs like mine and Mr. Janus’s. But our union has to be consulted before the state can outsource anything.
 
2. Mr. Janus has received $17,000 in union-negotiated raises.
Over his years working for the state, Mr. Janus has earned general wage increases and steps that would not have been guaranteed if not for the union.
 
3. The public—including the parents and kids Mr. Janus serves—has access to resources like childcare that our union has fought to defend.
Our union allows us speak up together on matters far beyond money. When Governor Rauner tried to cut childcare benefits for low-income single parents, we teamed up with outraged community members and made him back off.
 
4. Our union blocked the employer from doubling the cost of Mr. Janus’s health benefits.
In negotiations the state has pushed to double our health insurance costs and drastically reduce coverage. The employer declared impasse and walked away from the bargaining table. AFSCME took the matter to the Labor Relations Board and the courts—securing a temporary restraining order that prevents the governor from imposing his extreme demands.
 
5. We make sure Mr. Janus’s office is warm in the winter and cool in the summer.
In the building where Mr. Janus and I work, the heating and cooling system is extremely old. Twice a year they bring in a computer from 1982 to switch from heat to air conditioning for the summer, and vice versa for the winter. So when the weather fluctuates, we work to get portable heating or cooling units deployed where they’re needed.
 
6. Thanks to our union, Mr. Janus will retire with a pension.
Our union has fought to save the defined-pension that Mr. Janus will receive upon retirement. A coalition of unions including AFSCME took the issue to court—and won. The Illinois Supreme Court ruled that employees’ pension benefits cannot be cut.
 
7. Mr. Janus can get sick and still have a job when he comes back.
Before this job I worked without a union, in the retail industry, where I experienced what it means to be an at-will employee. Three absences would cost an employee their job—even if they called in sick and provided a doctor’s note.
 
8. Our union ensured that Mr. Janus could be fairly hired, regardless of his politics.
In public service our ultimate bosses are elected officials. There was a time in Illinois when to be hired or promoted, you were expected to make a contribution to the political party in power. But a 1990 Supreme Court case called Rutan v. Republican Party of Illinois put an end to that. Today our union enforces a triple-blind system for fair treatment in hiring and promotions, making sure seniority is followed.

New Parental Leave Policy is a Big Win for All University Staff

By Polly Peterson

As you know, AFSCME unions at the University fought hard and won parity in parental leave for birth mothers in our previous contract. Before that, P&A and faculty mothers were granted six weeks of leave to our two weeks. This was a huge win for us and we celebrated it, but we knew that we needed six weeks of parental leave for all parents, not just birth mothers. We fought hard in our most recent negotiation to get parental leave for all parents and negotiated a “me too” agreement that if parental leave was expanded for Civil Service and Academic employees, AFSCME members would get the benefit, too.
 
Due to our efforts and those of other employee groups, the University passed a new parental leave policy, effective April 18, 2018 that is great for our members and the whole University Community.
 
All parents with at least a 50% appointment are eligible for six weeks of leave including fathers, adoptive parents, surrogate mothers or parents due to surrogacy. This leave is available to all parents even if they have not been at the University for 9 months as was the past policy.
 
If you began parental leave that overlaps the start of this new policy (for example, your child was born/adopted in Mid-March or later), work with our union and your Human Resources department to ask for the full new parental leave. They are considering it on a case-by-case basis.
 
AFSCME 3800 led the way on advocating for this expansion in our benefits and we thank all of you who worked for this benefit for our members and especially to the Negotiating Committee!
 
Legislature Passes Pension Bill
 
AFSCME members cheered late Sunday night as Minnesota Legisla-tors passed the Omnibus Pension Bill.
 
The House passed the measure 131-0 and then the Senate (which passed the bill two months ago) quickly and unanimously signed off on some minor amendments. The bill now goes to Gov. Dayton for his signature.
House Speaker Kurt Daudt waited to take up pensions until just be-fore midnight as the clock ticked down on the final few minutes of the legislative session.
 
The pension reform bill, which AF-SCME and numerous public sector unions supported, was three years in the making. It will immediately save $3.4 billion and fully fund our pension systems within 30 years.
It includes shared sacrifice and shared responsibility from the state, employer, employee and retirees. The bill:
 
•Increases the employer and em-ployee contribution
•Includes new state funding
•Reduces COLAs
•Reduces the assumed rate of re-turn from 8 percent to 7.5 percent
 
Thank you to all the workers and retirees who have tirelessly shown up at the Capitol, called lawmakers and put on pressure. Your efforts have made retirements secure and dignified for decades to come!