On Organizing Day at the AFSCME Convention, delegates got a surprise video message from the President of the United States, and a boost of energy from the Secretary of Labor on Wednesday.
On a day when delegates heard the stories of brave member activists and Volunteer Member Organizers (VMOs), and adopted six resolutions setting forth the union’s organizing strategy going forward, President Obama’s message told delegates: “If I were looking for a good job with good wages that lets me build some security for my family, I’d join a union.”
Labor Secretary Perez followed by saying, “America will succeed when unions succeed! Make your voices heard. That’s the most important thing we can do to grow the middle class.”
Perez also urged us to mobilize to get engaged in the elections in November. “Too many people still don’t have a job,” he said. “Too many people are working a full-time job and living in poverty.” But that can change through political action, he noted. “Make sure that your voices are heard. Elections have consequences!”
Ramogi Huma, president of the newly formed National College Players Association, told delegates why he became involved in organizing for the rights of college athletes
and recounted his group’s efforts to help Northwestern football players organize. The players won a major victory in March when a regional director of the National Labor Relations Board determined, for the first time, that college athletes are employees and have the right to form their own union.
“After they signed the cards, many doubted that we’d win,” he said. “They stood up, they stood together and they won!” He said their victory “ends a period of 60 years in which the NCAA made a pay-for-play system” to skirt federal labor laws.
“I am fully aware that workers’ rights are under attack in this country,” he noted. “College athletes are not exempt from this.... Those who would try to strip away the rights of college athletes are on the wrong side of history.”
Standing up for workers’ rights – by organizing – was the theme of Wednesday’s special program. VMOs from several states told Convention delegates of their personal experiences about building union strength to protect their rights. They were joined by new AFSCME members from several states who explained why they chose to sign up.
Among them were Susan Rowe, RN, a VMO with Iowa Council 61, and Cory Quist, a law librarian with the state library of Iowa and a newly organized member of Council 61.
Quist and his co-workers were ‘at will’ employees without union protection. “Because we were not covered by a union contract, the governor could and did target us,” he said. “He wanted us to dig into our paychecks and fork over more for health insurance while the state was sitting on a pile of surplus cash. We knew that the only way forward was with the power of a strong union. So we organized!”
“I became a VMO because now more than ever it’s important for all us to do our part and organize non- union workers,” Rowe explained. “We know the only way to survive in a right-to-work state like Iowa is to grow membership, and to stand united against attacks on rights and benefits.”
Vermont home care provider Mary Warren received a warm welcome from Convention delegates as she recalled a three-year effort by the state’s providers to build a union with AFSCME. It culminated last year in one of the largest union elections in the state’s history and was the nation’s biggest organizing win in 2013.
“To the people I care for, my job is vital and I wanted to build a union so that home care workers in Vermont could advocate for ourselves and our clients,” she said. “I traveled throughout the state knocking on doors, having kitchen-table conversations with hundreds of home care providers just like me who wanted a voice. And just last year, Vermont’s 7,500 home care providers came together and overwhelmingly voted for AFSCME!”
Warren said it was “the biggest union election in Vermont history and the largest organizing win in the nation in 2013. And it is already changing lives. The contract we fought so hard for will lift thousands of providers out of poverty. In fact, we went from $7.25 an hour to $10.80 an hour.”
Delegates passed seven resolutions: Building Power: Winning Full Collective Bargaining Rights (3); Organized, Quality Health Care Interpreter Services (13); Organizing Retirees to Build Union Capacity (46); Building Power for EMS Workers (68); Organizing the Unorganized (91); Volunteer Member Organizers (99); and Beyond the Challenge of Harris v. Quinn (88).
Delegates also showed their determination to build union strength by passing seven constitutional amendments:
- An amendment to include Organizing Committees among the groups whose affiliates may unite to send delegates to the International Convention
- An amendment to increase the maximum value of a paper ballot, increasing the cap from 500 to 5,000 votes
- An amendment on convening a Special Legislative District Convention to elect an International Vice President
- An amendment to give a subordinate body 45 days to appeal after advance notice is given by the president of the establishment of an Organizing Committee within its jurisdiction
- An amendement (sic) to allow the electronic printing and distribution of International Convention reports
- An amendment to provide for electronic meetings of subordinate bodies
An amendment that allows councils and local unions to adjust per capita tax rates and dues each year by directly applying the average percentage increase in membership pay to their established rates.