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Essential Expenses: Student Loan, Rent, Political Contribution

Faced with bills and limited budgets, AFSCME’s youngest members of the Next Wave prioritize political activism through PEOPLE.

By Pablo Ros

To unwind, Brooks Salazar, 31, tries to stay active – he enjoys biking, playing rugby or going for a run in the park. The Seattle resident and vice president of Local 304 (Council 28) has a lot on his mind these days. To name one thing: “I’m freaking out about how to pay for college when my daughter gets there,” he says, referring to his 3-year-old daughter Lilly.

Brooks Salazar
Brooks Salazar (Photo by Karla Salazar)

And Salazar is concerned about another young generation: the young American public service workers represented by AFSCME’s Next Wave program, of which he is a member.

Salazar, a legal secretary for a state administrative court, makes a modest salary that he estimates is 40 percent below the compensation rate for a person holding a similar job in the private sector. He went into public service for the same reason many AFSCME members do – because serving our communities is still a job that we can be proud of.

But Salazar says state employees are demonized by politicians motivated by partisan ideology. Each month he contributes to PEOPLE, AFSCME’s political action committee, to help elect candidates who have workers in mind.

“We are well educated and hard-working,” Salazar says of public service workers. He wants candidates who understand that and fight for the public services we provide.

For those who are new to the union, in their 20s and 30s, the challenges facing our union are in many ways unprecedented. Ever since the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in 2010 that corporations could spend unlimited amounts of money on political candidates, the role of money in politics became outsized.

Salazar recognizes this situation is not ideal, but he is realistic enough to face it head on. “Money is the only way to talk in the current political system,” he says.

A Little Goes a Long Way

Many of AFSCME’s Next Wavers are just beginning their careers. They are engaged to be married or starting families, and many of them, like Jasmine Rezendes, 25, are paying off hefty college loans.

Jasmine Rezendes
Jasmine Rezendes (Photo by Rui Montilla)

Rezendes, who works for the Rhode Island Department of Education and is a member of Local 2872 (Council 94) has $45,000 in college loans left to pay. After graduating from college, she went back home to live with her parents temporarily.

“I lived with them for a little over a year and they helped me get on my feet,” she says. “They provided me the opportunity to live rent-free and start my nest egg until I was ready to take my next steps in life.”

After all her bills are paid, Rezendes says, she has “a couple of hundred dollars left that get put toward savings.”

Recently, she began donating to AFSCME’s PEOPLE program, at the MVP level—that’s a minimum of just $2 a week—after a union sister approached her. “All she had to say was that this was going to help us fight the wrong politicians, and I said: ‘Yes, I’ll do it,’” says Rezendes.

In Rhode Island, the importance of electing candidates who stand with workers, regardless of political party, has never been more clear. Gina Raimondo was elected general treasurer in 2010 and immediately began attacking the pensions of workers there (see p22 for more). Rezendes demands better for her fellow workers. She does it with her PEOPLE dollars every month.

Encouraging Others to Do the Same

Leah Jones, a corrections officer at the Ohio Reformatory for Women in Marysville, is a Next Waver with a mission to sign up everyone she can in her union’s PEOPLE program. For her, it’s personal.

Leah Jones

“I’m the next generation of the union, and we have to protect our jobs.”

— Leah Jones
(Photo courtesy Jones family)

Jones became an activist for Ohio Civil Service Employees Association (OCSEA)/AFSCME Local 11 after her chapter fought with her when she became pregnant in 2005 and 2008. OCSEA filed grievances that kept her from having to work among the most violent inmates while pregnant. “I didn’t want to risk my children,” she said.

After winning, she became a steward “and I’ve been getting even more active in last two years,” she said. That includes supporting PEOPLE.

“I’m the next generation of the union, and we have to protect our jobs,” she said. With anti-worker legislation looming, PEOPLE is critical. “It protects our jobs and it protects our union.”

Taking One More Step

Grace Baltich, 36, was already a PEOPLE MVP contributor. But when she was elected president of Minnesota Council 65 in 2012, she decided to take the next step and become a “1 percenter”—donating 1 percent of her salary to PEOPLE.

She’s doing this, even as she prepares to welcome a baby boy. A growing family is an expensive proposition, but Baltich says it’s important to her to donate 1 percent of the salary she earns as a social worker to PEOPLE.

Grace Baltich

“Certainly when you live paycheck to paycheck it’s hard to do anything. But for me donating to PEOPLE is a priority. I make it a priority because I know how important it is.”

— Grace Baltich
(Photo courtesy Baltich family)

“Certainly when you live paycheck to paycheck it’s hard to do anything,” she says. “But for me donating to PEOPLE is a priority. I make it a priority because I know how important it is.”

Like other Next Wavers, Baltich knows how much public workers’ contracts are affected by who gets elected to office. Contributing to our union’s PEOPLE fund is an investment in the future, driven by the belief that better days are yet ahead for public employees in our nation. 

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