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The union difference: Grassroots effort nets much-deserved raises

Photo credit: Getty.
By John Noonan ·

AFSCME Local 2021 members are celebrating victory again.

On the heels of a successful round of municipal elections in San Antonio, Local 2021 members’ robust grassroots lobbying campaign has led to a 4% permanent pay raise, a 1% one-time lump sum payment and protected health care benefits in the city budget.

The raises take effect this Friday and members will see the increases in their Oct. 15 paychecks.

San Antonio’s public service workers have been on the front lines during the most trying times the city has ever faced. During the ongoing COVID pandemic and Texas’ deadly winter storm, they stepped into more dangerous job assignments, accepted pay freezes and kept the city strong.

“The city council, city manager and Mayor (Ron) Nirenberg stepping up to unfreeze wages is a truly needed recognition of our sacrifices,” said Patricia Reck, a pre-K teacher. “We’re the city’s backbone, and together, we make San Antonio the amazing place it is. None of this could have happened without the activism and engagement of Local 2021 members.”

For this spring’s municipal elections, AFSCME members mobilized a grassroots turnout effort for endorsed candidates and helped elect a worker-friendly city council. Activists then pivoted their efforts to holding their elected officials accountable and ensuring that they keep their campaign promises.

Members signed hundreds of letters and sent petitions to elected officials and city leaders. They also visited these officials and participated in public listening sessions on the city budget.

“Local 2021 members stepped up and made this possible. By working together to elect a council that has our backs and making sure they knew we’re still engaged after the election, we were able to make a real difference in our lives,” Reck said. “To us, the difference between wage freezes and a raise is being part of a strong union.”

She went on to say, “It was a real relief for our wages to be unfrozen, and it’s been a really challenging time for all of the city workers I talk to. This was an important acknowledgment of our commitment and our sacrifices from the city council.”

Members aren’t stopping now. With the COVID pandemic continuing, and the Delta variant spreading unabated, workers in public-facing jobs continue to be in harm’s way.

The activists of Local 2021 are continuing their campaign for recognition of their sacrifices. They are advocating for employees who worked or are working in public-facing jobs to receive hazard pay – as provided for in the $465.5 million allocated to the city by the American Rescue Plan. AFSCME members nationwide fought hard to get that critical legislation through Congress.

“It’s been a real process and you keep going because you believe in what you’re doing. Talking to members, hearing everyone’s concerns, it takes determination and working together,” Reck said. “And you feel that support from your fellow members. That’s what the union is, a big support network.”

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