Saturday, February 28, 2009

Help during Hard Times

If you've ever given yourself a six-figure bonus, this message probably isn't for you.

But if you're like me, and you're outraged that CEOs and other executives continue to lavishly reward themselves while the middle class struggles, I hope you'll keep reading—and that you'll add your name to our petition to rebuild the middle class right now.

Earlier this month, AFSCME members everywhere stepped up to help pass President Obama's jobs and economic recovery package. We have to keep the momentum going because our economy is still in big trouble. I probably don't have to tell you how tough it is out there—as public service workers, we're on the frontlines of this crisis every day.

But I do want to tell you that, here at AFSCME, we remain committed to big solutions that will help make America happen—again. Right now, that means guaranteeing quality, affordable health care for all and strengthening our middle class.

With the new President and Congress, we have a historic chance to pass the much-needed Employee Free Choice Act. The idea behind the bill is simple: if a majority of workers want to form a union, they should be able to do so. And so far, nearly one million people—from AFSCME and other unions and allies—have added their name in support. Can I count on you to join them?

Once passed, this change will deliver an economy that works for us all by giving workers a stronger voice. Workers will be empowered to form unions and together fight for better wages and better benefits.

The result for AFSCME members? A stronger union workforce that lifts our national standard of living during hard times and rebuilds the middle class for the long term.

CEOs and corporate interests are terrified of this bill and fighting back with the dirtiest tricks in the books, including misleading ads and bogus front groups. These are the folks who think CEOs should be able to rake in millions while they cut health care benefits and layoff employees. But we can win, just like we did earlier this month, because we have you.

Over the next couple months, we'll be calling on AFSCME members to help us make America happen, again. Today, that means adding your name to our petition in support of the Employee Free Choice Act so we can rebuild the middle-class and restore the American Dream.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Minimum Wage Hike Passes House

Legislation to have the stae minimum wage law parallel the federal wage rates passed the Arkansas House of Representative today, 67-27. The bill is sponsored by Local 965's own Representative Jim Nickels (D-Sherwood), and it would raise the Arkansas minimum wage to $7.25 in July.

Fayetteville Democratic legislators Lindsley Smith, Jim House, and Uvalde Lindsey all voted for the bill.

All Northwest Arkansas Republicans vote NO -- Duncan Baird, Jonathan Barnett, Les Carnine, Debra Hobbs, Donna Hutchinson, Bryan King, Mark Martin, Roy Ragland, Marylou Slinkard, and Tim Summers -- and to keep wages below the federal poverty level. Jon Woods (R-Springdale) did not vote, which has the same effect as voting no.

Monday, February 23, 2009

Unions and Upward Mobility for Women Workers

In 2007, women made up 45 percent of union members. If the share of women in unions continues to grow at the same rate as it has over the last 25 years, women will be the majority of the unionized workforce by 2020.

This paper uses the most recent data available to examine the impact of unionization on the pay and benefits of women in the paid workforce. The data suggest that even after controlling for systematic differences between union and non-union workers, union representation substantially improves the pay and benefits that women receive.

On average, unionization raised women's wages by 11.2 percent - about $2.00 per hour - compared to non-union women with similar characteristics. Among women workers, those in unions were about 19 percentage points more likely to have employer-provided health insurance and about 25 percentage points more likely to have an employer-provided pension.

For the average woman, joining a union has a much larger effect on her probability of having health insurance (an 18.8 percentage-point increase) than finishing a four-year college degree would (an 8.4 percentage-point increase, compared to a woman with similar

Similarly, unionization raises the probability of a woman having a pension by 24.7 percentage points,compared to only a 13.1 percent increase for completing a four-year college degree (relative to a high school degree). For the average woman, a four-year college degree boosts wages by 52.6 percent, relative to a woman with similar characteristics who has only a high school degree. The comparably estimated union wage premium is 11.2 percent - over 20 percent of the full four-year college effect.

Read the full report.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

One Down, Two to Go

Thanks to you, we now have an economic recovery plan that includes substantial fiscal relief to state and local governments. President Obama signed this bill into law today.

Thousands of AFSCME members across the nation helped get this bill passed with phone calls, emails and faxes to your members of Congress. AFSCME International President Gerald McEntee has a special video message for all of you who took action: you can view it here.

We succeeded despite the Republican leadership's effort to kill the bill and stick to the failed policies that got us in this mess in the first place. Not one Republican supported this bill in the House. And only Senators Snowe and Collins (ME) and Specter (PA) were brave enough to break with their fellow Republicans in the Senate.

The opposition to Obama's jobs and recovery package was truly shocking given the dire situation of our economy.

  • AFSCME members are dealing with proposals for layoffs, furloughs, demands for contract re-openers and much more—all while demand for public services grows.
  • America is losing 20,000 jobs a day and unemployment just hit 7.6%.
  • States are looking at shortfalls this fiscal year that amount to 14% of their total budgets.
  • Projections for the 2010 and 2011 fiscal years look to be even worse.
I will be the first to admit that the compromise deal for the bill isn't perfect. We'll probably need more help and perhaps another recovery bill. But we know that without this plan, AFSCME members would feel much more pain. With it, we can avoid some of the most drastic cutbacks that would otherwise be made.

As a result of your hard work, the bill includes:

  • $87 billion increase in the federal contribution for Medicaid programs, money that will immediately relieve pressures on state governments and free up resources for other purposes.
  • $80 billion in new education funding to help states and local governments.
  • $150 billion in spending on infrastructure, for transportation facilities, roads and bridges, public transit, clean water, flood control, school construction and energy efficiency.
  • An additional $9 billion to the State Fiscal Stabilization Fund for flexible grants for critical public services.
Passing a jobs and economic recovery bill was the first of our three top legislative priorities in our "Make America Happen" campaign. Now we will fight to win quality, affordable health care for all and to pass the Employee Free Choice Act. And we’ll need you every step of the way. If the events—and your emails and calls—over the last few weeks have shown me anything, it's that when we join together, we can indeed make America happen, again.

Thanks for making a difference—I hope you'll watch the special video message from International President Gerald McEntee here.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

It's All About Jobs

Let there be no mistake. We know it, you know it and President Obama knows it: Our economy is bordering on collapse and we need your help to save it.

We have lost more than 1.5 million jobs in the last three months alone and we must act quickly to create new jobs, preserve existing ones and rebuild our crumbling infrastructure. To meet this challenge, President Obama and leaders in Congress have developed a large and comprehensive economic recovery and reinvestment bill.

We all worked very hard to make this the best bill it can be and create the most jobs possible, and let's be clear: While the final version of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act isn't perfect, passing it is absolutely necessary.

We need you to contact your senators and representative immediately and tell them to vote for the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act.

Economists across the political spectrum agree we need to act quickly. But a small band of Republicans and right-wing radio hosts are determined to derail any effort to rescue our economy and rebuild our middle class. The same people who got us into this mess somehow think the best way to get us out of it is to keep doing the same things that got us here in the first place. Crazy, eh?

We can’t let them stop a comprehensive economic recovery package and we need your help to make sure that doesn’t happen. Tell John Boozman that you support the
American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. We are all counting on you.

Please contact your senators and representative right now. Time is of the essence

Monday, February 9, 2009

McEntee on Executive Salaries

For years, AFSCME has been leading the fight to rein in the grotesque and excessive paychecks that unaccountable boards of directors have been giving too many of America’s CEOs. We’ve fought shareholder battles and taken our case to the media, arguing that directors who approve exorbitant salaries for executives cheat shareholders and workers. We created a network of institutional and individual investors that fights to get shareowners a voice on executive compensation packages and in the boardrooms of major corporations. But the CEOs want their sky-high pay guaranteed even when they fail, so they’ve fought us every step of the way.

Finally, as unemployment reached a 30 year high this week, President Obama took the case to the American people. "We all need to take responsibility," the President said on Wednesday, "and this includes executives at major financial firms who turned to the American people, hat in hand, when they were in trouble, even as they paid themselves their customary lavish bonuses." The President called excessive pay and bonuses "the height of irresponsibility." More importantly, he laid the responsibility for our country’s economic crisis right in the hands of CEOs who have put greed ahead of the well-being of everyone else. "That’s shameful," the President said.

President Obama decried the "culture of narrow self-interest and short-term gain at the expense of everything else" that has produced countless tales of corporate irresponsibility. For example, Martin J. Sullivan ran AIG, the giant insurance and financial services firm, into the ground. He was fired, but walked away with a severance package estimated at $47 million. He wasn’t alone. At a time when taxpayers were handing over $700 billion to bailout failing banks, the top echelon of the banks collected more than $18 billion in bonuses.

Benefits and pay for most Americans are being cut to the bone, jobs are disappearing, health care costs are skyrocketing and working families are struggling to make ends meet. Yet, CEOs are paid an average of 344 times more than average workers. This madness has to end. Unjustified executive salaries are padded with generous benefits, bonuses and contracts with so-called golden parachute provisions.

That’s why it was heartening to hear the President pledge that our taxes wouldn’t be spent to line the pockets of those who already get too much. "For top executives to award themselves these kinds of compensation packages in the midst of this economic crisis is not only in bad taste - it’s a bad strategy - and I will not tolerate it as President." Yesterday, the Senate followed the President’s lead and passed two important amendments to the President’s jobs and recovery legislation. Senators adopted an amendment from Senator Claire McCaskill (D-MO), which imposes a $400,000 salary cap,on officers and directors at firms that receive bailout funding.

The Senate also adopted an amendment offered by Senator Christopher J. Dodd, (D-CT), to prohibit bonuses and other incentives for at least the 25 most highly paid executives at firms that receive bailout funds from the Treasury Department and to conduct a retroactive review of bonuses given out by the firms.

Now, for the first time in memory, our political leaders are taking action that can lead to accountability and reform. But more must be done. It’s time to stop rewarding corporate executives for failure. Shareowners must have a say on executive pay. It’s time for Congress to pass legislation that gives shareholders a voice in how top corporate executives are paid and a chance to elect directors who will represent shareholder interests. We need bold action to bring these rampant abuses to an end.

--AFSCME President Gerald McEntee, February 6, 2009

Sunday, February 8, 2009

Jim Nickels Serving in House

State Representative Jim Nickels, member of AFSCME Local 965 and Executive Director of AFSCME State Council 38, is serving his first term in the Arkansas House of Representatives, representing District 43 (Sherwood and North Little Rock). Jim is also a member of the Executive Board of the Arkansas AFL-CIO.

Jim is an experienced labor attorney, who has served on the Executive Board of the Little Rock Workforce Investment Board since 2005, and he holds memberships in the Labor and Employment Relations Association, the American Association for Justice, the American Association of University Professors, the Lawyers Coordinating Committee of the AFL-CIO, and the National Employment Lawyers Association. He received his undergraduate and master's degrees in Sociology from Henderson State University and his law degree from the University of Arkansas.

Nickels prefiled House Bill 1035 to "unlock the freeze" and allow county assessors to lower the tax liabilities for homeowners who are over age 65 or disabled if their property values fall. The House approved HB1035 by a 99-1 margin on January 23rd. It received a Do Pass recommendation from the Senate Revenue and Tax Committee, and it is expected to pass the Senate this week.

Last week Representative Nickels filed House Bill 1383 that would authorize the state Contractors Licensing Board to impose penalties on a contractor who knowingly employs illegal immigrants either directly or through a subcontractor. The board could fine an offending contractor up to $200 per day for as long as the violation continues and could suspend or revoke the contractor’s license. It is currently on the agenda for the House Committee on State Agencies.