With nearly 19,000 retiree members joining since last year’s Janus v. AFSCME Council 31 U.S. Supreme Court ruling, AFSCME Retirees are embracing the value of their union in greater numbers than ever before. AFSCME Now sat down with Jeff Birttnen, AFSCME Retiree Council chair, to learn why membership is surging and why AFSCME members are never off the clock, even in retirement.
Question: Not only are working AFSCME members choosing to stick with their union in the wake of the Janus decision, but AFSCME retirees have been signing up in especially large numbers. What is the reason for the recent surge in retiree sign-ups?
Answer: Part of the reason retirees signed up in such strong numbers this past year was that people were unhappy with many of their elected officials and wanted to see worker- and retiree-friendly candidates get elected. Retirees succeeded in making their voices heard in the 2018 elections at the local, state and federal levels.
Also, retirees believe in paying it forward. We know that we have things like a secure pension, Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid because somebody did something at some point to make sure we can enjoy them. We’re doing the same thing.
Q: Where did you work?
A: I worked for 24 years in Washington County, Minnesota, as a welfare eligibility specialist. I was the point of contact to get people the services they needed, including Medicaid. I know firsthand how important it is to keep those programs secure, so people get the kind of care they need. Retirees have to be there to make sure we all have that.
Q: Why is it just as important to stay active – both in one’s union and politically – even after retirement? What are some of the big benefits in joining AFSCME retirees?
A: Union life doesn’t end at retirement. When we’re active in the local, we’re fighting for the same things as a group, in solidarity, working together for good contracts and working conditions and good jobs. That shouldn’t stop when you retire.
As a retiree, you also have a great opportunity to mentor. We’re able to work with both newer retiree members and working members to share what we’ve learned. It works both ways, too, because we’re constantly learning things from younger AFSCME sisters and brothers.
Q: Is AFSCME Retirees all about politics and nothing else?
A: Retirees are about more than just politics. We have many social and volunteering opportunities for members. We also stay abreast of current issues, like the opioid epidemic, by having local experts come talk to us. But at the end of the day, we’re always focusing on senior issues, and we all know that we have to stay vigilant to keep protecting what we’ve fought for.