East Coast Women's Conference
"You are the best female and male leaders in the best union in this country,” AFSCME Pres. Gerald W. McEntee told the more than 1,000 participants at this, the largest of AFSCME’s regional women’s conferences ever held on the East Coast.
In his keynote address, McEntee spoke of the political climate across the country. “I’ve been in Washington for some 16 years, and I’ve never seen so much meanness and vindictiveness in all my life.” And he expressed his concern that AFSCME members are being taken in by the rhetoric of the right.
"We polled our membership after the  election,” he said. “Almost 50 percent of the members of our union voted for the Dole and Newt crowd last time around. Then we asked them another question. ‘If they offered to reduce your taxes, would you be for that—even if possibly you could lose your job in the bargain?’ And 42 percent said ‘yes.’”
McEntee described some recent battles with the Republican congressional leadership, where—by changing one or two votes—AFSCME was able to stop actions that would have meant lost jobs for thousands of AFSCME members and devastation to their communities.
AFSCME women also showed their support for the PEOPLE program—raising some $8,000 during the conference. And two conferees won prizes at Sunday’s PEOPLE drawing. Lester Cole, from CSEA/AFSCME Local 1000, won a basket of Cajun foods and spices, and OAPSE/AFSCME Local 4 Pres. Joann Johntony won the PEOPLE 50-50.
A Call to Arms—A Call for Action
On Sunday, conferees heard a call to arms from U.S. Rep. Carrie Meek (D-Fla.).
"The labor movement is under attack. All the labor safeguards and guarantees are on the chopping block,” she said.
Meek listed some of the rights the Republican congressional leadership is targeting: minimum wage, the 40-hour workweek, prevailing wage laws, the right to form unions without company interference.
"I came here to wave the flag and say, ‘If you don’t fight, this may be the death knell of the labor movement.’ You’ve got to stop these union busters in their rampaging tracks.”
Women’s Committee Chair Carol Dimmock introduced AFSCME Sec.-Treas. William Lucy to wrap up the conference. “Bill fights for the rights and dignity of all workers,” she said.
Lucy described the right-wing’s unreasonable wish to return to a “simpler” time.
"Life will not go back in this country either for you or for me. There is an explosion of problems that only government can respond to. And many of the problems we face today are the result of failed Republican policies,” he said, “welfare for the rich and wealthy; free enterprise for the poor and needy.
"We must become much more creative than we have been in the past. As a trade union, we ought not suffer in silence. Those who have declared war on us ought to expect war in return.”
Lucy called on the participants to “reduce these issues to a personal level. Every union hall across this country must become a place for education as we fight to take back the soul of this country.”