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For Latina Leaders, AFSCME Strong is Close to Home

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For Latina Leaders, AFSCME Strong is Close to Home
Josette Jaramillo and Betty Jo Aragon, left and center in the front row, pose with fellow Council 76 Board members at a recent AFSCME Strong training in Pueblo, Colorado. Credit: Council 76

For Josette Jaramillo and Betty Jo Aragon, AFSCME Strong is deeply personal. Jaramillo and Aragon, president and vice president of AFSCME District Council 76 respectively, are from Pueblo, Colorado, a city where nearly half of all residents are Latino. Few other groups need a strong union more than their sisters and brothers in Pueblo.

Latinos are the most vulnerable workers in the United States. According to a recent report from the Labor Council For Latin American Advancement (LCLAA), Latino workers face the highest occupational fatality rate, highest numbers of wage theft, have the lowest levels of pension coverage, lowest levels of health insurance, and also earn the lowest wages of any other group.

From their early childhood, Jaramillo and Aragon knew the importance of union membership for people of color.

Jaramillo’s grandfather and Aragon’s father, both union members, worked at the Colorado Fuel and Iron Steel Mill in Pueblo. “The family lived humbly, but my grandfather worked hard and made enough to sustain a family of eight,” said Jaramillo. “In one generation, his union job created opportunities for our family. He had a pension, so when he retired, he had financial stability and didn’t have to rely on his family for support.”

Aragon, who has seven siblings, said there were times when her father would have to skip meals so that there was enough food for his children. “But his union took care of him and the family,” she said. “He worked so hard, putting in 12-hour shifts, but the union negotiated overtime pay, which made all the difference. I knew growing up that everything we had was because my dad had a union.”

Today, the union difference for Latinos is clear. According to the LCLAA report, when Latinos join unions, their median weekly earnings increase by 38 percent, they are 27 percent more likely to have health insurance, 26 percent more likely to have a pension plan, and they are less likely to be victims of workplace discrimination.

That’s why AFSCME Strong is so important to Jaramillo and Aragon. In an out-of-balance economy where the wealthy manipulate the rules in their own favor, unions are the best bet for working people – especially underserved minorities – to benefit from the fruits of their labor and sustain their families. It’s no wonder Latinos are joining unions in record numbers.

“I’m telling my story about what it means to build power for families through our union, organizing one-on-one with my co-workers” said Aragon.

“We’re not just talking about wages and benefits,” said Jaramillo. “We’re fighting for what’s good for families and for the communities we serve. That’s what it means to be AFSCME Strong.”