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Students Learn to Become Labor Organizers Through AFSCME’s Alternative Union Break

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winter break

CLASS OF WINTER 2010 – Latest participants in AFSCME’s organizer-training program, Alternative Union Break (front row, left to right): Arlene Cornejo, Dena Greenblum, Rudo Meda and Charles Holm; (back row, left to right): Ben Mays, Carter Thomas, Roxanne Winston and Sumbul Alam.

Photo Credit: Marlan Maralit

Eight college students and recent graduates came together in Delaware in January to participate in AFSCME’s Alternative Union Break, a week-long, intensive course on organizing workers to gain dignity and respect on the job through collective bargaining.

Conducted by AFSCME organizers and other labor specialists, the crash course helps participants learn about the labor movement, the importance of standing in solidarity with others, and the basics of AFSCME’s organizing model.

The eight Union Break students also visited the workplaces and homes of Delaware state employees who are seeking respect, fair pay and a voice on the job. One student, Roxanne Winston, learned about unions while working last semester at the University of California at Berkeley’s Labor Center. After graduation last year, Winston sought a job in the labor movement. “I wanted to find a job that spoke to many of my skills and passions, such as social justice organizing and empowering the working class,” she explains.

Winston discovered Alternative Union Break on AFSCME’s website. She says meeting workers face-to-face was eye-opening. “It pushes you out of your comfort zone and challenges you. You’re a complete stranger to them, but they’re sharing intimate details of their lives with you. It motivated me to want to do this work.”

AFSCME offered Winston a job as an organizer-in-training when the class ended. She accepted. “I was so energized and so excited that I wanted to start immediately.”

Charles Holm, who graduated in December from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, also participated in Union Break’s winter session, having learned of it from an AFSCME organizer who shared his interest in working for health care reform on campus.

“I really enjoyed it,” he says. “It’s one thing to read about the concerns and problems facing working people. It’s another thing to talk with them about it. That was one of the most important things for me – and seeing the workers get inspired to do something about their situation if they weren’t already fired up about the union.”

After completing the program, Holm accepted AFSCME’s offer to become an organizer-in-training.

Alternative Union Break is open to college seniors and recent graduates who are considering a career in union organizing. For more information, and to apply for upcoming sessions, visit our website at Also, learn more about becoming a union organizer on