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Dozens of new and veteran MSEA members take up the mantle of union steward

Photo credit: MSEA
Dozens of new and veteran MSEA members take up the mantle of union steward
By Ezra Kane-Salafia ·
Tags: Momentum

Public service workers in Michigan demonstrated how to be AFSCME Strong this year, adding to their collective strength and inspiring many of their colleagues to stand together to protect each other’s workplace rights.

Members and leaders of Michigan State Employees Association (MSEA/AFSCME Local 5) leaders and AFSCME volunteer member organizers (VMOs) engaged with hundreds of current and potential members in three blitzes since last fall. Those efforts paid off when dozens of new members attended a two-day steward summit in June to learn the skills needed to be a VMO, a critical, front-line role.

MSEA members and leaders have a number of good reasons to keep their organizing efforts moving. Beyond just building member power, MSEA members must “reauthorize” their union membership every year. That means MSEA members and leaders have to contact every current and potential member of every year to get them to reup or sign up for union membership.

MSEA members have taken big strides in activating their union power over the last several years. They have stepped into representation and organizing roles, extending the reach and responsiveness of the union. But with MSEA members at 640 worksites across the state, it’s nearly impossible for leaders and staff to be everywhere they are needed.

Enter the union’s front line member force — the stewards.

During blitzes in October 2023 and March and May of 2024, they focused not just on growing membership, but on recruiting members to step up and receive or refresh their steward training.

And MSEA members stepped up by the dozens. In fact, 88 new and veteran MSEA members attended the steward training. They came to learn how to protect themselves and their colleagues. They came to get involved. They came to connect with their union siblings.

“As a social worker to my core, I have always helped those in need, whether it be in being a listening ear, (doing) community service, providing resources, and/or being the voice for those could not speak. Becoming a union steward allows me to take my efforts one step further,” said MSEA member Neshele Godfrey, who works in the state’s Office of Child Support.

She attended the June summit, becoming a steward for the first time.

Beyond acquiring technical skills, Carrie Henshaw, an agent with the Department of Licensing Regulation and an MSEA member, said it was invigorating to meet fellow union members across the state.

“It’s inspiring to see so many new people get involved. We had almost 100 people show up to the training, so many people from so many different areas across the state,” Henshaw said.

But it’s not just a show of solidarity across jobs and regions. The steward trainees shared knowledge and experiences from their fights around Michigan.

“When you start talking to people, you know, like, oh, hey, I know people who are experiencing that, how are you guys handling this? Everybody has a wealth of knowledge, a wealth of experience you might not know anything about,” Henshaw said.  

With a host of freshly trained stewards stepping up to fight for their fellow members and with more trainings to come, MSEA’s future is strong

“We are lucky to have so many people that actually care, just be brothers and sisters in such a strong union. Nobody comes down on anybody. Instead we reach out and we help each other,” said  Henshaw.

Godfrey said, “Our group (members) all work remotely, and I have a ton of ideas I want to share and promote. Together, I am confident we will be a great team.”

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