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AFSCME members build leadership skills at inaugural conference in Baton Rouge

Members of AFSCME Council 17 participated in a leadership conference in Baton Rouge, La. Photo By: Anna Dang/ AFSCME
AFSCME members build leadership skills at inaugural conference in Baton Rouge
By Anna Dang ·

BATON ROUGE – For the first time ever, AFSCME Council 17 members gathered for a leadership conference here. After two days of building skills through trainings, sharing knowledge in workshops and meeting with potential members on worksite visits, AFSCME members are ready to return home to build capacity in their local unions.

For Shanahn Smith, president of AFSCME Local 2832 and sergeant security over maintenance at Allen Correctional Center, the leadership training is directly applicable to the role he takes on in his union.

“I’ve felt the sting of management not wanting to get on board, but that’s part of the beauty of what I learned while I was in the seminar,” said Smith. “It’s that we’re not alone, we’re not reinventing the wheel, and this is something that, through our shared experiences, we can encourage one another and keep each other moving forward.”

Bus drivers, constables, maintenance workers, pest control inspectors, teachers, mechanics, technicians and other workers from locals across the state attended the conference.

The breadth of professions among AFSCME’s membership provided an enriching opportunity for Shirlena Ruffin, a sergeant for the Baton Rouge City Constable’s Office and recording secretary for AFSCME Local 3030. For the first time, she was able to get out of her comfort zone and talk about the union to workers from outside of her office.

“I was intimidated at first … but taking the time out to learn is what really makes you for the people,” said Ruffin. “To see what their problems are, and to learn their stories, it just puts that fire under you.”

Amid the high spirits, AFSCME International President Lee Saunders delivered a speech to remind the group that leadership in AFSCME is not defined by title, but rather the commitment to change that he saw in that room.

“Anyone who loves our union and is willing to work hard to strengthen it can step forward to become a leader,” said Saunders. “Everywhere I go, I see working people standing up and saying: we will push back, and we will not be pushed around.”

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