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On the Road to the AFSCME Public Service Forum

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By Erica Zeitlin, AFSCME District Council 36, AFSCME International Staff Explore the Issues Workers' Rights
On the Road to the AFSCME Public Service Forum
Photo by: AFSCME District Council 36

Andrew Perry wants to know how the presidential candidates taking part in the AFSCME Public Service Forum on Saturday plan to strengthen unions and protect working people’s rights in an era of widespread right-wing hostility.

Ana Meni will be listening for how the candidates plan to protect pensions, provide affordable housing, lower the cost of medical coverage and block the outsourcing of public services.

Natasha Khamashta wants them to delve deep into the issues that affect people every day – wages, homelessness, drug use, wages and the work-life balance.

Perry, Meni and Khamashta are members of AFSCME District Council 36 (Los Angeles) and part of a group of California members traveling to Nevada to participate in the one-of-a-kind forum at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas. They will join hundreds of their Nevada sisters and brothers in the audience to watch the candidates discuss their views on the issues of the day and on public services and the workers who provide them.

“I’ll be listening mainly for how they are going to create legislation knowing that the Supreme Court could potentially just shoot down any (pro-union) legislation,” said Perry, a communications specialist for the City of Artesia and president of AFSCME Local 1520. “How are they going to help unions out, especially in the ‘right-to-work’ states, and (in light of) the Janus decision. I am just curious how they plan to make unions stronger.”

He reeled off some of the other issues important to him for which he wants to hear solutions from the candidates – improving health care, increasing wages, protecting the rights of women and minorities, and resolving a particularly acute worry of his, climate change.

“I am also super excited about the coming election,” he said. “I just really hope that we can get out the vote because I think that will be the key.”

Meni, who describes herself as a conservative, rode to Las Vegas on a bus along with a group of her fellow members. A buyer in the City of Carson's Finance Department, Meni said she’s excited about attending the forum despite her political differences with the candidates because “it’s not every day that you get an opportunity to be in the same room with presidential candidates and to hear them firsthand.”

“I’m also (curious) to see why everyone else is excited about these candidates,” said Meni, president of AFSCME Local 809.

Still, she wants to hear how they plan to help and protect public service workers, who she said are often not given the tools or the technology to do their jobs effectively, only to be threatened with outsourcing by politicians beholden to private industry.

Khamashta, a member of the newly formed Local 148, will be listening for how candidates talk about the value of public service.

“I want to hear the candidates being responsive to the country’s needs: higher wages and fair working conditions, and really, health care for all,” the public defender said. “I had no family members in a union, but I learned in school about our history with child labor, fighting for women’s rights, and it seems to me unions were always fighting to make an impact for all.”