Category Archives: AFSCME

New Rules for Wisconsin Unions: No Rules

Source: Theresa Moran, Labor Notes, February 10, 2012

Wisconsin public workers face harsher work rules and shrinking paychecks as contracts expire and additional provisions of Governor Scott Walker’s anti-union bill set in. State unions are being forced to shift from a decades-old servicing model to an organizing model in a fight for their survival.
In Wisconsin, assessing a new labor law’s impact
Source: Daniel C. Vock,, February 13, 2012

Wisconsin and Beyond

Source: Kim Moody, In Critical Solidarity, Vol. 10 no. 3, May 2011

Like the beginnings of upsurge in earlier times, the rebellion that began with Wisconsin’s public workers — against one of the most far-reaching attacks on worker rights in some time — came as a result of anger building after years of pressure on public employees all across the nation.

Among the many lessons of the Wisconsin events is that politicians develop backbone to the degree their base is in the streets and “out of control.” Should the Democrats take back various statehouses, perhaps even Congress, and the mass movement subsides, they will fall back into their pattern of compromise and retreat. Post- Wisconsin politics need to be a politics of mobilization and direct action if the debate on worker rights is to replace that of austerity and increasing impoverishment.

For the past two years, the right and their Tea Party shock troops dominated political discourse in the style of a semi-mass movement, sometimes attracting the angry and frustrated with their sharp rhetoric. This year in Wisconsin and across the Midwest, the Tea Party efforts to support these Republican governors were pathetic and that movement was reduced to its true proportion as a middle class minority. This year, the working class majority spoke in the loudest voice and clearest terms it has for decades, and attracted broad support in the process.

Remembering Martin Luther King, Jr.

Source: Johanna Russ, Wayne State University, Walter P. Reuther Library blog, March 30th, 2011

“It is a crime to live in this rich nation and receive starvation wages.”-Martin Luther King, Jr.

At the beginning of 1968, working conditions for sanitation workers in Memphis, Tennessee, especially African Americans, were atrocious. Employees were given no benefits, no vacation pay, no pensions; forty percent qualified for welfare, and many worked second jobs. During bad weather, black workers were sent home without pay, while white workers collected a full day’s wages. The Memphis Sanitation Department refused to modernize the equipment used by black workers.

Other Models for Labor-Management Dispute Resolution: The Wisconsin Experiment

Source: Christine D. Ver Ploeg, William Mitchell Legal Studies Research Paper No. 2010-12, May 13, 2010

From the abstract:
Twenty-two years ago leaders from the Wisconsin Department of Labor Relations and leaders from the Wisconsin State Employees Union, AFSCME Council 24, agreed that they needed a more efficient way to deal with their backlog of grievances, many of which involved routine issues and did not require a precedential decision. To that end they mutually crafted two special arbitration procedures: the umpire arbitration process and the expedited arbitration process. In the intervening years the parties have resolved a large portion of their grievances using these special procedures, and today relatively few grievances are taken to conventional arbitration.

Given this extended and extensive track record, the parties were interested in now more closely examining their experience to determine how the advocates who have been in the trenches and use these special processes evaluate them and how they might be improved. To that end arbitrators prepared a ninety-question anonymous survey to which an advocate could respond with a quantifiable score and could also offer additional related thoughts.

All of the advocates – who among themselves had one to thirty-six years of labor relations experience – responded to this survey. Results revealed that both union and management advocates are highly satisfied with the umpire arbitration and expedited arbitration processes. Advocates suggested very few changes and none would support eliminating these special procedures as options.

In short, it is fair to say that the parties have realized their goal of resolving select grievances more efficiently while at the same time preserving fairness and effectiveness. These special arbitration procedures have worked well, and in today’s even more challenging economy other parties with substantial grievance backlogs could learn much from the Wisconsin experience.

“A Wagner Act for Public Employees”: Labor’s Deferred Dream and the Rise of Conservatism, 1970-1976

Source: Joseph A. McCartin, Journal of American History, Vol. 95 no. 1, June 2008
(subscription required)

From the abstract:
The explosive rise of public sector unions in the United States in the 1960s and the early 1970s resembled in many ways the breakthrough of industrial unionism in the 1930s. The unionization of teachers, police officers, fire fighters, secretaries, sanitation workers, and other government employees was every bit as sudden and unexpected as the depression-era industrial union upsurge had been. Membership in public sector unions grew tenfold between 1955 and 1975, topping four million by the early 1970s. Moreover, newly organized government workers behaved just as militantly as did auto and steel workers a generation earlier. In 1958 there were a mere 15 public sector strikes recorded in the United States; in 1975 the number hit 478. It is little wonder then that so many observers compared public sector unionism to the rise decades before of the Congress of Industrial Organizations (CIO). Describing a scene reminiscent of a famous history of the 1930s by Irving Bernstein, the journalist Irwin Ross suggested in 1968 that the upsurge in government workers’ activism had created a “turbulent state” by the late 1960s. Ralph J. Flynn, a lobbyist for the fastest growing public sector union, the American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees (AFSCME), also used a depression-era benchmark. Surveying AFSCME’s prospects in 1974 he concluded that “today is 1934 in the public sector.” And, when a Pennsylvania state official tried to understand the unionization of state workers, he also drew on history: “We went through this in the ’30s in the private sector,” he explained. “Now we are going through it in the public.”

Forty Years Since King: The Memphis Sanitation Strike

Source: James Lawson, Labor: Studies in Working-Class History of the Americas, Vol. 5 no. 1, 2008
(subscription required)

April 4, 2008, marks forty years since the tumultuous battle for union rights in Memphis, in which an assassin took the life of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Coretta Scott King summed up her husband’s work in 1968 by saying, “He gave his life for the poor of the world, the garbage workers of Memphis and the peasants of Vietnam.” To honor and remember the importance of King and the Memphis strike, we reprint excerpts from Rev. James Lawson’s speech to the joint LAWCHA-Southwest Labor Studies Association conference held at the University of California-Santa Barbara.

Illinois Workers Locked Out for Two Years after Voting in Union

Source: Gail Warner, Labor Notes, no. 365, August 2009

Two years into a strike and lockout at a small mental-health provider in central Illinois, the 40 counselors who walked out are still standing. Years of fruitless bargaining, mediation, and picketing have left the workers clamoring for binding arbitration to bring the struggle to a close. They’re campaigning for the Employee Free Choice Act, which includes an arbitration provision to resolve first-contract disputes.

Workers Protest Puerto Rico’s Governor as Lay Off Of Tens Of Thousands

Source: Produced by Ken Nash and Mimi Rosenberg, Building Bridges: Your Community and Labor Report, June 19, 2009
(at 15 minutes)

Benjamin Borges, Executive Director, Public Service Workers United of Puerto Rico (Servidores Publicos Unidos de Puerto Rico) Council 95, AFSCME

One hundred thousand marched in San Juan to protest the recent firing of 10,000 workers by prostatehood Governor Luis Fortuno. The march was organized by All of Puerto Rico for Puerto Rico, a new coalition that includes unions affiliated to Change to Win, the AFL-CIO, independent unions, community groups, and church organizations, who also protested Law 7, which would privatize public workers jobs and allow the government to discard contracts already signed with labor unions. Gov. Luis Fortuno plans to cut 30,000 more public sector jobs as well.

Financial Crisis Shouldered by City Workers

Source: Paul Abowd, Labor Notes, No. 358, January 2009

Last summer’s meeting of the National Conference of Mayors foresaw grim days for American cities — and that was before finance markets folded up in the fall. Now urban governments confront budget deficits that stem from falling tax revenues and the ongoing credit crunch.

More than a quarter of American cities hemorrhaged jobs in 2008. Mayors now propose to add to the jobless by firing yet more city workers. Wall Street’s collapse has opened a $4 billion hole in New York’s $60 billion balance sheet over the next two years–and support from state and federal coffers is less than forthcoming.

The Memphis Strike: Martin Luther King’s Last Campaign

Source: Michael Honey, Poverty & Race, Vol. 16 no. 2, March-April 2007

On February 12—Lincoln’s Birthday—Gillis and others on the sewer and drainage crew had had enough. They and nearly 1,300 black men in the Memphis Department of Public Works, giving no notice to anyone, went on strike. Little did they imagine that their decision would challenge generations of white supremacy in Memphis and have staggering consequences for the nation.