INDIANAPOLIS — Maintaining her fighting spirit, Ruby James said, “The union is you! It is not something separate from the members. We rally around and fight for fair treatment.”
James, president of Local 3146, Council 62, of the American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees (AFSCME), is fighting for her members in the face of Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels’ termination of union contracts covering 25,000 state employees.
The governor claimed that ending union representation was required in order to fix the state’s problems with providing child welfare and child support services, but James counters that the union would never have stood in the way of implementing changes that helped the children of Indiana.
“If the governor wanted to make Child Welfare better, to make us more efficient and effective, he would have had the total support of the union,” she said. In fact, the union called for many of the initiatives that Daniels is implementing, including increasing the number of caseworkers.
The union had been calling for some time for Child Welfare to have its own budget. While part of the Family and Social Services Administration, child welfare services had to compete with many other services for funding, even though it is charged with protecting children’s lives, a different level of responsibility than other components of the FSSA. Now the governor has implemented the union’s suggestion and broken child welfare and protective services out from FSSA into their own department.
James said the priority of the governor, who was President Bush’s first term budget director, “is not the children of Indiana, it is breaking the unions of Indiana.”
The fightback against the contract cancellations may be made more difficult by the threat of state right-to-work legislation being passed. Some observers say that some unions may be holding back on their support for AFSCME in this struggle in the hope that their cooperation will deter the governor from pursuing passage of right-to-work legislation in Indiana. While AFSCME workers must elect to join the union, in some other unions, employment automatically enrolls a worker as a union member. Right-to-work legislation would remove that automatic enrollment. However, given the high priority Gov. Daniels places on destroying unions this strategy is likely to run into problems down the road.
State representatives and the governor should be contacted to demand that the AFSCME contracts be restored immediately. One rank-and-file activist pointed out that the attack on AFSCME must be seen as an attack on the union movement, and supporting AFSCME seen as part of supporting the SEIU Justice for Janitors and various anti-Wal-Mart movements that are active in Indiana.
James said, “Don’t let 16 years of negotiations go out the door. Workers, just like the children we protect, need someone to stand up for us. We want to be treated with respect and sit as equals at the negotiating table to work together with management for the best for the children, and for the rights of our workers.”