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LGBT Pride Month: Why Mara Keisling Was Arrested for Using the Wrong Bathroom

by Pablo Ros  |  June 27, 2016

LGBT Pride Month: Why Mara Keisling Was Arrested for Using the Wrong Bathroom Mara Keisling (Photo courtesy of NCTE)

On May 24, civil rights leader and Georgia Congressman John Lewis reminded his Twitter followers that 55 years ago, he was arrested for using a whites-only restroom. The idea of a whites-only restroom seems so backward today that it’s fair to say our country has made huge progress in overcoming some forms of discrimination.

But Lewis’s tweet came a day before 11 states sued the federal government to prevent transgender students from using restrooms that match their gender identities. This is another form of discrimination. And just as Lewis was arrested for using a restroom where he wasn’t allowed, transgender activists today are being arrested for a similar reason.

Mara Keisling, the founding executive director of the National Center for Transgender Equality (NCTE), is one of those activists. She went into a woman’s restroom in North Carolina as an act of civil disobedience after the state passed a law to further limit transgender rights. The law, known as HB2 or the “Charlotte bathroom bill,” nullifies any local ordinance in the state that protects LGBT individuals, including the right to use a restroom matching one’s gender identity.

“I can’t use the men’s room because it’s uncomfortable,” says Keisling, who identifies as female, “and it offends my dignity.”

Since the debate over transgender bathroom access began making national headlines, Keisling has been speaking out on the subject, including to a group of legislators at the U.S. Congress. Last week she spoke about it at AFSCME’s national headquarters in Washington, D.C., during an event celebrating LGBT Pride Month. It’s a topic she treats with the seriousness it deserves, but also with light-hearted irony.

 “I was sitting this far from Nancy Pelosi, telling her about where I like to pee,” she said, motioning a few feet away.

But the bathroom issue is “serious stuff,” she added, and not just because it offends the dignity of a transgender person. “There are kids in North Carolina who aren’t going to school because they’re afraid,” she said. It’s a form of discrimination that can harm a person for the rest of his or her life.

Keisling also pointed out that the Charlotte bathroom law targets all workers by forbidding localities from raising the minimum wage, and it shields employers from legal action at the expense of workers’ rights.

“This was an anti-worker bill that used transgender people as a scapegoat,” she said.

That’s why it’s important, she added, to view the LGBT movement as inseparable from the fight for workers’ rights, immigrant rights and other progressive causes.

“We can no longer have an effective LGBT movement or a moral LGBT movement unless it is also an anti-racist movement – a ‘we-are-all-in-this-together’ movement,” she said. “If we see any more obstacles or diminishments happening to the labor movement, it hurts us all.”

Despite efforts in several states to pass discriminatory laws like HB2, Keisling said she has never felt so optimistic about ending discrimination against transgender people.

“Obama is the best President we’ve had on transgender issues, and no one is in second place,” she said.

Since Obama took office, Keisling has counted more than 100 victories for the LGBT community. And she’s predicting more to come.

Public Workers Battle Zika Virus in Puerto Rico

by Pablo Ros & Michael Byrne  |  June 22, 2016

Public Workers Battle Zika Virus in Puerto Rico Source: Puerto Rico's Department of Consumer Affairs

With more than 100 reported cases of the Zika virus in Puerto Rico, AFSCME members who work for the government are busy helping to fight the virus and prevent its spread. Health officials predict as many as one in five residents of the island will be infected by year’s end, increasing the chances of the virus’ spread on the mainland.

To make matters worse, Zika could not have arrived at a worse time for the people of Puerto Rico. The government is undergoing a financial crisis related to its more than $70 billion in outstanding debt. In February, a U.S. Treasury official urged Congress to help the Commonwealth restructure its debt quickly, warning that "Puerto Rico's very survival is at stake."

Since the debt crisis' beginning, the Puerto Rican government has cut back on public programs, including health and environmental control services, needed to fight the virus. Qualified health care professionals have sought jobs elsewhere in the United States. And there’s no money to pay for basic protective measures, such as installing window screens in homes, medical facilities and schools that currently lack them, or creating a more effective spray to kill the mosquito that transmits the disease.

Although Zika is a mild illness with symptoms of fever, rash, joint pain and red eyes, it has been linked to brain damage in unborn children, including microcephaly. In adults, there is a suspected link to Guillain-Barré syndrome, which can lead to temporary paralysis.

President Obama has asked Congress for $1.9 billion to fight the Zika virus, including $250 million in aid to Puerto Rico. But Congress has yet to act.

'Doing Everything We Can'

The Department of Consumer Affairs (known as DACO, for its acronym in Spanish) has frozen prices on medicine used to treat Zika symptoms and items used to prevent infection, such as mosquito repellents. The order is intended to fight Zika as much as to control an outbreak of Influenza that has affected many more people. It covers a freeze on prices of prophylactics, mosquito repellents, disinfectants, analgesics, and the Influenza vaccine, among other things. There is no vaccine for Zika.

Workers for DACO are also visiting residential communities, schools and seniors' centers to educate the public on the risks of Zika and how to prevent becoming infected with the virus.

"We are doing everything we can to help prevent the spread of the Zika virus and the Influenza virus," says Eduardo Martínez, a purchasing agent for DACO and president of AFSCME Local 3986 (Servidores Públicos Unidos de Puerto Rico/Council 95). "We're working around the clock, even on evenings and weekends. We are educating people about Zika, what its symptoms are, how to prevent it, and how to keep their homes free of mosquitos."

Mikey Rivera, a computer programmer for the Department of Education and president of Local 3840 (Council 95), says he and his colleagues have been part of the effort. "We’ve been visiting schools and talking to school staff, educating them on the Zika virus and how to prevent contagion," he said. "The idea is to try to reach parents through their children."

Rivera and Martínez say austerity measures have thus far not hindered their efforts, and they remain hopeful that preventive measures will help contain the spread of the virus. But that may change with the beginning of the rainy season and the onset of warmer weather.

Your Union-Made Vacation

by Olivia Sandbothe, Diane Williams & Pablo Ros  |  June 21, 2016

Your Union-Made Vacation

We all know that union members are the folks that brought you the weekend. But how about summer vacation? With temperatures rising, many of us are dreaming of a longer getaway. But for some AFSCME members, summer fun is all in a day's work.

Sun and Sand

Rick PatrizioYou can't get much closer to real-life paradise than the beaches of Maui. But even paradise has its dangers. It's lifeguard Rick Patrizio's job to make sure that beachgoers stay safe while they have fun in the sun.

"I always tell people to never turn your back on the ocean and never climb on slippery rocks. No matter how strong a swimmer you are, Mother Nature is stronger."

Patrizio is a lieutenant with Hawaii's Ocean Safety and Lifeguard Services Division. He's also a chair for Unit 14 of the Hawaii Government Employees Association, AFSCME Local 152. The 700 members of the unit may spend their days at the beach, but that doesn't mean they get to relax.

"In our line of work, no business is good business," says Patrizio. "If you see us up and working, that means somebody is in trouble."

If you're headed to the beach this summer, don't forget to protect yourself from the sun and stay hydrated. Coppertone sunscreen and Rubbermaid coolers are both union-made in the United States.

The Pool

Alvin WilliamsAlvin Williams, a lifeguard in Hallandale Beach, Florida, and member of AFSCME Local 2009 (Council 979), says he became a lifeguard more than 15 years ago and what he likes most about his job is "the satisfaction of knowing you may be the reason someone survives in the water."

He teaches survival skills to children who already know how to swim but may not know their limits. Several years ago, he saved a child who jumped into the deep end of a swimming pool not realizing what he was getting himself into. "I saw the look of panic in his eyes," Williams recalls. "I ran toward him and told him I was going to get him out of there."

To stay out of trouble, Williams advises children to always swim with a buddy and near a lifeguard stand. If they'll be out in the sun, they should also drink plenty of water to avoid muscle cramps.

Back to Nature

Edward WilemanCan't swing a ticket to Hawaii? No problem. No matter where you live, you're probably not too far from some beautiful public land.

In central Pennsylvania, Edward Wileman of AFSCME Local 2245 is hard at work making sure that the great outdoors are accessible to the public.  He's a maintenance supervisor in the Tuscarora State Forest, which covers more than 90,000 acres of rolling Appalachian wilderness.

Wileman's job is to make sure that more than 100 miles of trails and roads are clear and well-maintained for hikers, cyclists and horseback riders. "This is the place to come if you want to get back to nature," he says.

Even when he's not on the job, Wileman is passionate about the outdoors. He even visits local schools dressed as Smokey the Bear to teach kids about fire safety.

His advice to vacationers is to play it safe. "There's not a ton of dangerous wildlife, but we do have some rattlesnakes and bears," he says. "Be careful, because you're a visitor on their property."

Rattlesnakes aside, Tuscarora State Forest is a friendly place to visit. "If you see us, feel free to ask questions," Wileman says. "We're public employees and that's what we're here for."

Before you head into the wilderness, be sure to pack your Danner hiking boots and your Weber grill - both union-made in the USA. If you're looking for union-made hunting and fishing gear, the Union Sportmen's Alliance can help you find it. Visit

A Day at the Museum

Rebecca MeahThe school year is drawing to a close, but at the American Museum of Natural History in New York City, members of AFSCME Local 1559 (DC 37) are preparing an educational experience for kids and adults alike. They're building the displays for an exhibit called "Dinosaurs Among Us," set to run through January 2017. The exhibit traces the evolutionary links between prehistoric giants and the birds we can see in our backyards today.

"We show transitionary animals," says Tory Ferraro, a senior principal preparator. "These are strange-looking big birds, dinosaurs that range from the size of a chicken to a four- or five-foot ostrich."

Teams of skilled museum preparators and assistants tend to every detail for an experience that brings dinosaurs to life. Rebecca Meah, a senior principal preparator, explains the process.  "We spent months on molds and built steel skeletons that we coated in spray foam, layered on silicone and rubber and finished with hand-painted feathers."

These are only a few of the summer activities that are brought to you by union labor. Whether you're traveling far from home or just looking for a weekend outing, be on the lookout for your AFSCME sisters and brothers.

More AFSCME-Made Vacation Destinations

  • Florida: Vizcaya Museum and Gardens: This stunning Italianate mansion, built by a millionaire in 1916, was acquired by Miami-Dade County in the 1950s. AFSCME Local 199.
  • Michigan: Mackinac Island State Park: Stroll the beaches of Lake Superior and the charming downtown district from bike, horseback or on foot. MSEA/ AFSCME Local 5.
  • California: East Bay Regional Park District: A system of parks and nature preserves to hike among giant redwoods and take in stunning views of the San Francisco Bay and surrounding landscape. AFSCME Local 2428.
  • South Dakota: Dinosaur Park: Built by the Works Progress Administration in 1936, this reptilian roadside attraction is a fun stop on the way to Mt. Rushmore. AFSCME Local 1031.
  • Louisiana: Let a union sister or brother get you home safely after a night on Bourbon Street. New Orleans Cab Drivers for Justice/AFSCME Council 17.

We're Winning the Fight for $15

by Secretary-Treasurer Laura Reyes  |  June 20, 2016

We're Winning the Fight for $15 Rally in New York City to raise the minimum wage in America. Photo credit: The All-Night Images

When fast food workers walked off their jobs in 2012 to demand $15 an hour and a union, many dismissed their demands as unrealistic and unattainable. But what the skeptics failed to see was the workers’ resolve. Today they’re winning in city after city, and in state after state.

Their latest victories include California and New York, which in April became the first states in the nation to raise their minimum wage to $15, a gradual change that will be accomplished by 2022. In doing so they followed the lead of cities like New York, San Francisco and Seattle, and they are likely to set the example for other states to follow.

Also in April, thousands of workers infused the Fight for $15 with new life when they hit the streets in cities all over the country, keeping the issue central in the Presidential campaign and making it clear that they’re strong, relentless and unstoppable.

A Spirit of Resolve

You know who else is strong, relentless and unstoppable? AFSCME members. And labor unions have played a key role in the Fight for $15. Last year we joined together with restaurant workers for the largest-ever national strikes aimed at increasing the minimum wage. What we share with these workers is a spirit of resolve that will help guarantee future victories.
When workers join together in union, the strength of their will simply can’t be ignored!

As we continue the fight, it’s also important to keep making the case for why increasing workers’ salaries will help end poverty in our communities. Together, we must take the Fight for $15 to the ballot box to show candidates of all political stripes that there are nearly 64 million Americans who make less than a livable wage.

For California Home Care Workers, Other Victories, Too

Home care providers in California achieved another important victory as well. Today, they will finally be paid overtime and travel time thanks to new rules issued by the U.S. Department of Labor. These new rules will bring home care under provisions of the Fair Labor Standards Act. States who are currently dragging their feet on implementing the new rules should take note.

What this means to people like Lidia Rodriguez is big. Rodriguez, a UDW Homecare member profiled in the Alliance for Justice film, "The Right to Unite," will finally be compensated for the 60 hours a week she works with her son, paralyzed from a drive-by shooting, and two other clients who love her dearly. She will now be paid for traveling back and forth between clients.

"This will mean so much to me and other home care providers," Rodriguez says. "I don’t have to worry about buying gasoline to travel to see Vivian and Barbara (her senior clients)."

Our recent victories remind us of what we can accomplish together if we never quit.

One Way to Fix Our Country’s Child Care Crisis: Invest in Family Child Care Providers

by Doug Moore, UDW Executive Director  |  June 20, 2016

One Way to Fix Our Country’s Child Care Crisis: Invest in Family Child Care Providers (Photo by Crystal Young, UDW Homecare Providers Union)

Gloria Carter has run a home-based day care in Sacramento County for more than 20 years. She provides child care and educational opportunities for the 12 kids in her care with the help of one assistant. And she’s seen first-hand the child care crisis both California and the nation are experiencing.

“It’s terrible,” said Carter. “Many of the parents of the kids in my care struggle to pay for child care while trying to make ends meet, and when I lose kids in my day care, my family struggles too.”

Far too many working families can’t afford care, and family child care providers earn wages so low that they can’t afford to keep their home-based day cares open. These problems add up to decreased access to quality, affordable child care and early learning opportunities for our children. But there is a solution: Make an investment in family child care providers to increase families’ access to child care.

“A mom of one of my kids couldn’t afford child care any longer, so she took her daughter out of my day care,” Carter recalled. “She reduced her hours at work, which meant reducing her income, so that she only worked when her daughter was in school.”

Families, especially low-income parents, rely on family child care providers to care for and teach their children while they work. And when parents can’t work because they can’t afford care for their children, they struggle to provide for their families. All too often, families are forced to make tough decisions between paying for care and going to work.

In 2014, the cost of child care for a preschooler in California was approximately $9,100 in a child care center, and $7,850 in a home-based day care. And this year, an analysis by the Economic Policy Institute found that it may be cheaper for a California family to send their child to college than to pay for child care for an infant. In fact, California has the 11th highest child care costs in the country. Families are struggling to provide for other basic needs like rent and food, because the cost of child care is, on average, a third of their income.

With numbers like these, it’s clear we need to invest in child care now more than ever.

Quality investment in child care, including raising the wages for family child care providers, will help ease the financial worries of parents throughout. And right now, the best way to do this is to stabilize the child care system.

UDW supports an increase in Californian subsidy rates, which will give family child care providers like Carter a much needed and deserved increase in their pay – making it easier for them to afford their work-related expenses and keep their day cares open for business.

Investing in family child care providers and increasing access to care is a wise investment to make throughout the country and especially in California.

Doug Moore is the Executive Director of UDW/AFSCME Local 3930, as well as an International Vice President of UDW’s parent union AFSCME.

What Dads Really Want for Father’s Day

by Pablo Ros  |  June 19, 2016

If you’re a working father in today’s labor force and you’re splitting child care equally with your spouse, then it’s likely you feel overwhelmed at times. This is because only 13 percent of American workers have access to paid family leave, and even those who do don’t have nearly enough.

The United States is the only developed nation in the world with no guaranteed paid leave of any kind. Seventy countries guarantee paid paternity leave for working dads, but the U.S. does not. In countries as diverse as Vietnam, Ireland and Bangladesh, parents can count on having paid time off to care for a newborn.

So it’s likely that if American dads could choose anything they wanted for this Father’s Day, many would say: I want more paid family leave.

Paid family leave means being able to be there for your child or children when they need you most without sacrificing your employment or jeopardizing your ability to make ends meet. It means having a more balanced work/family life.

A few bills are out there gathering dust in our deadlocked Congress that would be a welcome gift to many working dads. One is the Family and Medical Insurance Leave Act, or FAMILY Act, which would provide up to 12 weeks of paid leave each year to qualifying workers for the birth or adoption of a new child, the serious illness of an immediate family member or a worker’s own medical condition.

Another is the Healthy Families Act, which would require certain employers to allow their workers to earn at least one hour of paid sick time for every 30 hours worked, helping them meet their own medical needs or those of certain family members. And there’s the Raise the Wage Act, which would allow dads to spend more time with their families by raising their wages so they don’t have to work a second or third job.

Working families can take a big step toward fulfilling a dad’s dream by helping elect Hillary Clinton for President. Secretary Clinton has made it clear that she would fight for paid parental leave because she understands what it’s like for today’s parents to balance work and family life.

Secretary Clinton has said she would guarantee workers up to 12 weeks of paid family and medical leave with at least a two-thirds wage replacement rate, and she would pay for it by making the wealthiest Americans pay their fair share in taxes.

Now that would make for a Happy Father’s Day!

Runaway Pay and Undisclosed Lobbying Are Addictions, and BlackRock Is an Enabler

by John Keenan  |  June 17, 2016

Runaway Pay and Undisclosed Lobbying Are Addictions, and BlackRock Is an Enabler (Courtesy US PIRG)

Wouldn’t you like your paycheck to be 335 times larger? That’s how much American CEOs earn, on average, compared to the average worker. As many working families live paycheck to paycheck, this kind of pay imbalance is not only outrageous, it’s also bad for our economy.

CEOs earn three times more than they earned 20 years ago, yet the middle class is falling behind. Mutual fund companies are enablers of this alarming pattern of permitting CEOs to pay themselves these astronomical checks. And BlackRock and its CEO Larry Fink have been in the news lately for leading this trend.  

Mutual funds hold 31 percent of all U.S. company stock, so they have the power to directly affect how the companies they own govern themselves. Mutual funds vote on company issues like approving CEO pay, or shareholder proposals asking companies to disclose their political contributions and lobbying. Much like Vanguard, BlackRock is also awfully quiet when it comes to supporting political spending disclosure at companies.

But at a Davos conference in Chicago earlier this year, Fink made an important comment that went largely unnoticed at the time. In a discussion about shareholder value maximization — the idea that the sole purpose of a company is to make money for its shareholders — Fink stated that “lobbying is really good because it is maximizing shareholder value.”

Absolutely. If lobbying “maximizes shareholder value,” and actually helps companies earn more money for its owners, isn’t this important information for investors? Shouldn’t BlackRock support shareholder resolutions that call for disclosing political spending, including lobbying?

They don’t. For 2014 and 2015, BlackRock opposed every corporate political spending disclosure resolution that it voted on. Every single one.

One vocal critic of disclosure inadvertently made our case that disclosure is best. Last month former SEC Commissioner Daniel Gallagher appeared before a House Financials Services Committee hearing. Gallagher proposed reforms to the shareholder proposal process, claiming the process is abused. He stated that firms with the largest lobbying expenditures consistently outperform the market, but described lobbying disclosure shareholder proposals as an “apparent attempt to name-and-shame companies into reducing such (political) expenditures.”

Gallagher’s logic is that lobbying is good for shareholders, but investor demands for disclosure somehow are a bad thing. His argument makes no sense.

The Corporate Reform Coalition applauds Fink and Gallagher for recognizing that lobbying is an important factor that impacts shareholder value. And now we encourage both to support explaining to investors how and where companies spend corporate dollars on political campaigns and lobbying.

Ohio Taxpayers Get Milked by State Prison Farm Selloff

by David Patterson  |  June 17, 2016

Ohio Taxpayers Get Milked by State Prison Farm Selloff Members of OCSEA this June protested the state’s decision to close prison farms that once produced milk for inmates. Now taxpayers are on the hook for $2.6 million annually for that milk. (Photo by Deirdre Wedig)

After selling off its dairy herd of more than 1,000 cows from state-run prison farms that supplied 1.3 million gallons of milk each year, Ohio taxpayers must now shell out $2.6 million a year to supply milk to 50,000 inmates.

“It's the biggest waste of taxpayer dollars I've seen in my 25 years as a state employee,” said Chris Mabe, president of Ohio Civil Service Employees Association (OCSEA)/AFSCME Local 11 and also an AFSCME International vice president. “It's an absolute giveaway at this point.”

Since the Kasich administration’s corrections agency announced in April that it was getting out of the prison farm business, hundreds of OCSEA members have protested at each of the state’s 10 farms slated for closure and sale. The decision surprised employees, legislators and the public because the Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Corrections (DRC) had already spent nearly $9 million to upgrade the farms.

OCSEA, which represents 72 state employees who supervise the inmates at those correctional facilities, filed a lawsuit challenging the sales, alleging a contract violation. The state responded by filing motions seeking to block the union from gaining information about the farm sale. A hearing was just held in a county court on a Preliminary Injunction to stop the sale. A decision on the injunction is pending.

Prisons Director Gary Mohr cited security concerns as reasoning for closing the farms, but some have suggested ulterior motives: that corporations cozy with the Kasich administration are eager to snap up 7,000 or more acres of farmland at the 10 sites.

Under the guise of “improvements,” the Kasich administration outsourced prison food services at a cost to taxpayers of $110 million. Now run by Aramark, Ohio prisons have been the subject of confirmed reports of maggot-infested food.

The prison farms, in existence for more than 100 years, have been, for the most part, self-sustaining. The already completed upgrades were projected to increase both meat and dairy production to three times the current amount as well.

Crops are also grown to help supply food to local food banks. Inmates learn how to operate heavy machinery, weld and repair equipment, and use a variety of tools as well – skills they can use once they’ve served their sentence.

While prisons may not be turning inmates into farmers, some state employees argue it's all about teaching the inmates work ethic. “It's the act of teaching people responsibility, the value of working an eight-hour day and being able to be outside a fence,” Mabe said. “Even Director Mohr praised the farm operations a year ago. Something is not adding up here.”

AFL-CIO Endorses Hillary Clinton for President

by Pablo Ros  |  June 16, 2016

The 12.5-million member AFL-CIO voted today to endorse Sec. Hillary Clinton for President of the United States, ending a yearlong process that sought to capture the interests of the working people it represents.

In a press release, the largest federation of labor said it would immediately begin to “put in motion its ground campaign to elect Hillary Clinton and union-endorsed candidates across the country.” AFL-CIO Pres. Richard Trumka said Secretary Clinton has throughout her campaign “demonstrated a strong commitment to the issues that matter to working people, and our members have taken notice.”

He added that working people’s activism “has already been a major force in this election and is now poised to elect Hillary Clinton and move America forward.”

AFSCME Pres. Lee Saunders, who is chair of the AFL-CIO Political Committee, said the choice in this year’s Presidential election was clear.

“This election offers a stark choice between an unstoppable champion for working families and an unstable charlatan who made his fortune scamming them,” he said. “Working people know that Hillary Clinton has the temperament and experience to unite all Americans in our fight to increase incomes at home and extinguish threats abroad.”

AFSCME endorsed Secretary Clinton back in October 2015, when our union’s 35-member International Executive Board voted overwhelmingly in support of her. This endorsement was based on overwhelming feedback from AFSCME members collected over six months, including polling data showing nearly two thirds of AFSCME members intended to vote for her in the Democratic primary.

Since becoming the presumptive Democratic nominee, Secretary Clinton has continued to receive the support of AFSCME members.

“The choice between Secretary Clinton and Donald Trump could not be clearer,” said President Saunders. “Trump is a dangerous and unstable demagogue who thinks American wages are too high and has called for gutting workers’ rights. Public service workers are ready to hit the streets to make sure he gets nowhere near the White House.”

Megan Burger Is This Year’s 2016 Gerald W. McEntee Scholarship Recipient

by Clyde Weiss  |  June 15, 2016

Megan Burger Is This Year’s 2016 Gerald W. McEntee Scholarship Recipient Megan Burger, 2016 Gerald W. McEntee Scholarship recipient. Photo credit: Family photo

Megan Burger wants to be an occupational therapist. It’s a goal the U.S. Capitol tour guide will be able to achieve more easily thanks to AFSCME’s Gerald W. McEntee Scholarship.

Burger is this year’s recipient of the one-time award of $5,000, granted annually to one AFSCME member. The scholarship honors the legacy of Gerald McEntee, AFSCME’s president from 1981 until 2012, during which the union grew from 960,000 members to 1.6 million. It is awarded to the candidate who best exemplifies McEntee’s commitment to growing stronger by joining together, building political power for working families, defending workers’ rights and supporting public services.

“I’m honored to get an award as prestigious as this – one that encourages people who have organizing experience to better themselves,” said Burger

Burger’s involvement with labor began with her parents: Her dad was a member of the Plumbers and Pipefitters, and her mother was a secretary for her Postal Workers local. After becoming a U.S. Capitol tour guide in 2007, labor became part of her own life.

When the guides decided they needed a voice on the job, they turned to AFSCME. In October 2010, after nine months organizing, Burger led 138 Capitol tour guides and visitor assistants to win recognition of their union. The next year, the members of the U.S. Capitol Visitor's Center Employees, AFSCME Local 658 (Council 26), were honored with the “Annual Organizing Award from the Metropolitan Washington Council, AFL-CIO. Soon thereafter, approximately 25 employees of the Visitor Center gift shop voted to become part of Local 658.

“After organizing, I was elected our first president of the local,” Burger wrote in her essay for the scholarship. “At 28, I got the training of a lifetime in experience.”

Burger would quickly be called on to use that experience to stand up for her sister and brother visitor assistants (VAs) who were demanding that management allow those working outside to wear winter coats in cold weather. VAs were getting sick and depleting their sick leave and leave without pay, she wrote. Something had to be done, but management refused.

On Sept. 30, 2010, “less than a week after voting in a union, I testified before our Congressional Oversight Committee,” Burger wrote in her essay. The panel was examining safety at the Capitol complex and Burger raised the coat issue. After her testimony, she said, they got their coats.

Burger’s activism continued. Last year she helped lead a Member Action Team (MAT) to help more of her co-workers join together. “Our workplace is partly under 30 and new to membership benefits,” she wrote. “As a full-time student, part-time employee, I have made time to lead another organizing committee.”

Nearly twice the number of co-workers joined, doubling the size of  Local 658 since the start of 2015, an organizing effort that is part of our “AFSCME Strong” program that has signed up more than 200,000 members nationwide.

For their efforts, Local 658 received another “Annual Organizing Award” from the Washington DC Metro-area AFL-CIO, presented this February.

The 2005 graduate of the University of Central Missouri (where she received a communications degree) never quits working to improve her workplace, herself and the lives of her co-workers through AFSCME. “Unions helped me grow up in a hardworking middle-class family, go to college and make a good first career great,” Burger explained in her essay for Union Plus Education Foundation, which announced the award. “It is from the advocacy and leadership opportunities that I discovered something: I enjoy helping people better themselves.”

“People need unions,” she added. “An important next step, for me, is to keep involved by educating and agitating. Unions will be there to weather any storm.”

With her scholarship, Burger plans to take classes at Northern Virginia Community College this fall to prepare to become an occupational therapist, possibly for a federal or state system. Burger said her experience as a Capitol guide, and her union experience as a steward and president, will help her as a therapist.

“I felt the people in my workplace were empowered, and I felt empowered,” working through their union, she explained. “An occupational therapist is an occupation that empowers people to do activities for a daily living.”

Carl Goldman, executive director of AFSCME Council 26, congratulated Burger, saying, “It has been a pleasure working with Megan. She is a natural organizer. With very minimal training, she knew exactly what to do to help to bring her co-workers into AFSCME. For me, it was like working with an experienced staff organizer. As local president and as a leader in the Member Action Team, she continued to help build power and bring a voice on the job to her colleagues. She is very deserving of this honor.”

Only AFSCME members are eligible to apply for the Gerald W. McEntee Scholarship, a one‐time scholarship that may not be awarded twice to the same member. A candidate must apply first for a Union Plus scholarship (Burger received a $750 Union Plus Scholarship).

Learn how to apply for the Gerald W. McEntee Scholarship here. Learn about other AFSCME scholarship programs here.

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