With Volunteer Member Organizers leading the way, we nearly doubled our goal of signing up 50,000 new AFSCME members this year.
“Today, we are not just 50,000 Stronger. We are 92,155 stronger! 92,000 voices stronger! 92,000 fighters stronger! 92,000 warriors stronger!” Pres. Lee Saunders thundered in his keynote that launched the Convention. Delegates roared in approval.
The remarkable success of the 50,000 Stronger campaign, which was established as an internal organizing goal at a leadership summit in January, comes on the heels of a Supreme Court decision that undermines our ability to represent home care and child care workers. It serves as proof that determined face-to-face organizing is the best antidote for the gathering storm of attacks against public employees. That power to endure and overcome was the core message of President Saunders’ keynote address.
“You see, we know what it means to be caught in a storm. We understand what it means to be tossed on rough seas. Getting through the storm takes not only courage, but perspective. You have to focus on what you’re going through, yet envision where you want to be,” he told the delegates.
Monday’s program was a celebration of the dedication and determination of VMOs in building our strength and voice in the workplace. LaTonya Graham of District of Columbia Council 20 and Angela Brandel of Ohio Civil Service Employees Association (OCSEA) were among the VMOs who shared their moving stories about the challenges and rewards of organizing new members. Their experiences had a common theme: While it takes courage to knock on doors and start conversations, the effort pays off.
Vibiana Saavedra, a VMO from California, led a passionate discussion about the ways that members are working to build our union. As a home care provider, Saavedra is one of the workers whose union rights were under attack by the court in the Supreme Court case Harris v. Quinn. Her message was clear: In today’s anti-worker political climate, union members must take bold action to fight back.
“The lawsuit was funded by billionaires. They wanted us to lose our union,” she said. “But AFSCME was prepared for this assault.”
And those opponents are more threatening than ever, as President Saunders made clear. The Harris v. Quinn case created new obstacles for home care and child care providers who are trying to improve their wages and working conditions. It is part of a well-funded effort by business groups who want to silence the voices of working people.
“Our opponents want to deplete the labor movement of resources, steal our power, silence
our voices and cripple us,” he said. “They are even undercutting the most fundamental right we have as Americans – the right to vote.”
He stressed how AFSCME affiliates nationwide refused to back down against political attacks. Since our last convention, we faced threats from elected officials in places like Enid, Oklahoma, and Jefferson City, Missouri, but members got organized and protected their jobs and rights.