AFSCME Leaders Commit to Fight against Super-Rich Anti-Worker Forces

AFSCME International secretary-treasurer Elissa McBride
AFSCME International secretary-treasurer Elissa McBride

Dozens of Council 5 local leaders gathered at AFSCME Council 5 Friday, vowing to fight harder than ever against anti-worker forces.

The U.S. Supreme Court is hearing the Janus case next month. A negative ruling would instantly make the entire public sector “right to work.”

“We’re going to go through a very challenging year,” says Council 5 executive director John P. Westmoreland. “By the end of this year, all of our union will be a committee of the willing.

“We are all on the same side,” Westmoreland adds. “We are here to survive. We are here to move forward, and that is incredibly important in a time like this when the attacks are bigger than they’ve been since we won the laws we’re trying to protect. Everybody has value. This is our union.”

“We’re not planning to win – we’re working to win and planning to be ready for ‘right to work’ in the public sector,” says AFSCME International secretary-treasurer Elissa McBride, acknowledging the anti-worker, pro-corporate bias of the current Supreme Court.

“Those who came before us were not daunted by the fact they didn’t have the right to organize,” McBride says. “They weren’t daunted by the fact there was no fair share. People have had to form unions during the toughest of circumstances. Our union was born during the Depression. We know we can fight when it’s an uphill climb.”

Local 34 president Jean Diederich (left) with AFSCME International secretary-treasurer Elissa McBride.
IB Image

One of the most important thing members can do is keep following AFSCME Strong. She says the program is a working demonstration of lessons she learned from the late Sen. Paul Wellstone:

  • When folks can look people in the eye who are making decisions that will affect their lives, a lot can change.
  • If you want to understand politics, talk to people, make change happen.

McBride saw those principles in action when she went door knocking in New York. She spent an hour in the living room of an AFSCME member who’s never filed a grievance or held a local office, but loves her union.

“She takes advantage of some things like free college, and she loves her union because it negotiates improvements in her life,” McBride says. “She understands that what she has is because she is part of a union.”

AFSCME International secretary-treasurer Elissa McBride addresses a room filled with dozens of Council 5 Local leaders.
IB Image

That’s a message AFSCME and other unions need to spread across the nation. Along with attacking workers through the courts, billionaires and corporate CEOs like the Koch Brothers are funding special interest groups who are calling our members, knocking on doors and mailing postcards full of lies. They want to persuade members to leave their unions.

“Wouldn’t you rather members of our union hear from you before they hear from the Freedom Foundation?” McBride says. “We want to inoculate folks, to prepare them for what’s coming and to ask them to be part of the coalition of the willing.”

Despite all the money the super-rich are spending to stack the deck in their favor, our coalition keeps growing. AFSCME International (including Council 5) has already talked one-on-one to more than 800,000 members across the U.S.

In 2017, Council 5 gathered 7,770 recommitment cards and boosted PEOPLE MVP membership to 9.9 percent, just 44 members shy of our 10 percent goal. We organized 226 workers last year.

Minnesota gained 46,000 union members last year, reversing a decade-long decline.

A new report by the Bureau of Labor Statistics also shows that union members grew as a share of Minnesota’s workforce from 14.2 percent to 15.2 percent in 2017.

“People do appreciate the ways in which a union makes a difference,” McBride says. “That’s something that we need to lift up, that unions made a difference to folks in all sorts of ways that matter to their lives and to their communities.”