AFSCME members honored during Community Change event

Photo portrait of Mr. Alpha Bufford

Alpha Bufford.

Two AFSCME members were honored Thursday by Community Change, an organization dedicated to lifting up low-income communities, for their service as front-line heroes during the pandemic.

Alpha Bufford, an Oklahoma City sanitation worker and member of Local 2406, and Lourdes Nevarez, a case service aide from Adams County, Colorado, and a member of Local 3972 (Council 18), were recognized during an event that spotlighted the extraordinary contributions of essential union workers since the pandemic began.

During its “Champion Awards” ceremony, Community Change acknowledged the vital role these labor champions have played over the past 1½ years. Whether it was feeding school children, delivering the mail, picking up trash, or doing any of the countless other jobs union members do, these front-line heroes have not only kept our communities running but also been a source of hope.

For Bufford, who has been a sanitation worker for 12 years, being called on to serve his community during the pandemic, or during any other crisis, is an opportunity, not a hardship.

“We’re always out there doing a service for our community,” said Bufford. “And we’re proud to do it.”

Bufford added that while working during the pandemic has been “nerve-wracking,” it’s also been “pleasing to know that we contribute a service to the community that is much needed.”

Among those services Bufford and his team provided were helping elderly or disabled customers move their trash to the curb and talking to them during the loneliest parts of the pandemic – no small feat when you serve 1,000 to 1,300 customers.

“It was nice to know we were able to … let them know the world wasn’t ending,” he said.

Photo portrait of Ms. Lourdes Nevarez

Lourdes Nevarez.

For Lourdes Nevarez, who has been a service aide for 20 years, it all comes down to serving her community, whether in normal times or during a pandemic.

“I truly believe in the power that comes in serving my community to be able to provide some hope,” said Nevarez. “For me, when it comes to the meaning of being ‘essential,’ it’s that connection with my community.”

Connecting with Adams County families through the pandemic has been difficult and scary, Nevarez admits. But that didn’t stop her from making sure that children in vulnerable situations found a safe home environment, and that families had access to important resources like transportation, life skills development and parenting counseling.

Another factor in her success throughout the pandemic? Her union.

“But being a part of a union and a great team, we were able to figure out the best ways to serve our community, our children and our families,” she said.

Nevarez said that being a union member, especially during the pandemic, came with a feeling of power.

“Having that collective voice, we were really able to make change,” she said.

Other labor champions honored by Community Change were represented by UFCW, SEIU, NEA, APWU and UNITE HERE.

In addition to recognizing the role individual essential workers played, Community Change also recognized The National Domestic Workers Alliance for its work in community organizing, along with journalist and professor Nikole Hannah-Jones and Lorena Quiroz-Lewis, executive director and founder of Immigrant Alliance for Justice and Equity in Mississippi.