LAS VEGAS – More than 160 AFSCME members gathered in Las Vegas last week to lift up the voice of public service workers and move our union forward.
At the AFSCME Volunteer Member Organizer Rise Up conference, VMOs from around the country attended skill-building training sessions and visited Nevada state employees to share the vision of improving the quality of public services and the lives of those who provide those services.
They included members like Ile Tran from AFSCME Local 258, a security specialist for Elk Grove Unified School District in Sacramento, California. Tran shared his story of getting involved, even though he wasn’t sure about paying dues. But then his fellow union members came to his side when he was struggling. Now he is back on his feet and looking to give back and spread the word on the power of coming together.
President Lee Saunders addressed the VMOs on the first day of the conference, telling them, “No matter the politician or the boss, it’s on us to grow this union and take care of our families and those we serve. And that’s why we are here. VMOs have a set of experiences and perspectives that cannot be replaced. There is no one who can speak with greater authority about the benefits of union membership than a union member.”
Conference participants included AFSCME Council 75, Local 974 member Greg Clouser, a corrections officer at Two Rivers Correctional Institution in Umatilla, Oregon. He went to Las Vegas to build his skills – and share with Nevada state correctional employees how a union has made a difference for him and his co-workers.
When the state tried to disregard their contract and change the overtime policy, they fought back and won. “Because we had the power of our union, we were able to win,” Clouser said. “That’s the message.”
Secretary-Treasurer Elissa McBride called the gathering historic for AFSCME’s future and for our union’s VMO program.
“It demonstrates our union’s deep commitment to growth,” McBride said Thursday. “It shines a light on the importance of rank and file leadership. There is so much at stake here – for state employees in Nevada, for you as a union leader, and for our union.”
In addition to getting trained and building their skills, VMOs were briefed on the union’s 2019 organizing priorities – to focus on external organizing in key industries and bring the power of solidarity and collective participation to hospital workers, behavioral professionals and emergency services workers.
VMOs applied their lessons right away. They knocked on the doors of Nevada state employees to discuss the benefits of coming together and bargaining improvements to working conditions, pay and benefits.
Griselda Horton from AFSCME Local 829, Council 57, in California was eager to get started. “I’m just so excited to take time to reach out to Nevada state employees to share my story and value of being an AFSCME member and being a part of the AFSCME family,” she said.
Nevada state employees are the only public service workers in the state without collective bargaining rights. But AFSCME Local 4041, which serves Nevada state employees, is a union on the move, having grown by more than 1,000 members in the past year. The union is now working to win collective bargaining rights at the legislature.
In just three days, Horton and other VMOs certainly did rise up. And they will continue to soar in 2019 when they share stories of how unity and collective bargaining works with thousands of unorganized hospital workers, behavioral health employees and EMS workers.
Nick Merton, an auditor with the State of New Mexico and a member of AFSCME Local 1211, Council 18, echoed the feeling of many of his fellow VMOs when he said: “To be part of helping workers come together in a union is an awesome feeling.”