Taking our 'Rise Up!' Message to Vegas

At the AFSCME International Conference in Boston this year, we remembered that, despite the attacks on labor unions, AFSCME will and does Rise Up!  Taking the ‘Rise Up!’ message to Las Vegas, AFSCME International gathered over 160 volunteer member organizers (VMOs) from around the country to share the benefits of collective bargaining.

In the midterm elections, Nevada elected a new governor, who has publically shared that he will sign a collective bargaining bill, one that will give over 20,000 state employees the right to come together and be a voice at the bargaining table. AFSCME has been there, door knocking for Governor-Elect Sisolak, and talking to members and potential members about what it truly means to bargain and gain a contract with employers.

To share this message, member to member, AFSCME hosted over 160 members from around the nation (Puerto Rico and Alaska were in the house!) as volunteer member organizers. Our own MN Council 5 sent eight members from across the state, me included. Together, we learned and shared with each other the impacts that collective bargaining has had on our own lives and in our communities. We heard from organizers who had just recently become unionized in Chicago, and from the correctional officers in New Mexico, who came together to fight for fair wages.

Coming from a well-established Local, much of the gains that many locals are seeking are already written into our contracts, providing stable avenues for us to stand together and share our voices collectively. Local 34’s current contract already includes every example of union language that was given in our workshops, and so does the contract we ratified for 2019-2021. These are items such as:

  • Union Leave: This made it much easier for me to participate in the conference, without giving up my PTO.
  • Access to employees: We are able to put on events like labor lunches, thanks to language granting our union access to employees.
  • New Employee Orientation: Our number one way of introducing people to our union is protected by language in our contract.

But that wasn’t all this conference set out to do. We went out and talked to people working for the state, who currently don’t even have the right to a contract for their work – union or not.

I spoke with a Nevada corrections officer who shared concerns about her coworkers being fired, with no appeal or grievance process, just in time for the holidays. She shared worries about safety, as minimum staffing continues to be set by the employer, and watching that ratio get scarier and more dangerous, for staff and inmates. She spoke about “the raise [her] director got” for her and her coworkers.

I shared with her the true power of bargaining. We started with the truth about the raise, and that AFSCME takes a holistic approach to representing public employees that extends beyond the contract, including negotiating funding for raises for state employees.  We also screen, endorse, and campaign for policy makers who will do right by the workers.

We talked about bargaining for safe staffing requirements, especially after we lost CO Parise this September, as well as the AFSCME family coming together for his family. We talked about our fight to keep private prisons out of Minnesota, and our influence at the capital to address the real impacts state policies have on our work and our community. 

All of these gains we’ve have been able to secure because we came together. Our contract language that was fought for by our predecessors that we continue to defend, using our voice to influence our community policies at all levels, and coming together as a community are all ways that union activism has been impactful for me.

No matter what stage of the game you’re in, from a Local that has been around longer than I have been alive, to a Local that just chartered, AFSCME is looking at all angles to best set our communities up for success, and that is only possible because our members continue to Rise Up!