AFSCME Members Raise the Capitol Roof at Day on the Hill


More than 1,000 AFSCME Council 5 members from across Minnesota turned the state Capitol green Tuesday, March 20 for Day on the Hill.

Chanting “Whose Freedom? Our Freedom!,” workers stood up for their freedom to form strong unions and to speak up for themselves, their families and their communities. Members also visited their own senators and representatives to help shape a legislative agenda that respects hardworking Minnesotans.

Council 5 executive director John P. Westmoreland says our country is all about freedom, and we will never give up our rights as workers.
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Workers are standing up to big corporations and wealthy extremists who want to strip away decades of union progress in winning strong contracts, pensions and grievance procedures.

Local 2829's Denna Thurmond stands up for pensions.
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“They’re here, and they’re going to take our freedom,” Council 5 executive director John P. Westmoreland says. “If you stay home, it’s done. If you don’t vote to protect your rights and freedoms, it’s done. If you don’t stand up, you’ve just desecrated everything everybody else died to earn and protect.”

Westmoreland says since the election of November 2016, freedom is under attack like never before. He called on AFSCME to rejoin the Civil Rights Movement. He says it’s time for unions to prove that civil rights, workers’ rights and human rights are the same thing.

Council 5 president Judy Wahlberg says despite the constant attacks, AFSCME members are facing the future with hope, not fear.

“Today we are stronger together than ever,” Wahlberg says. “We have record membership. We have record numbers in PEOPLE. That’s thanks to your hard work. We did it together.”

She says nobody can stop workers from fighting for a better life for our families or our communities.

“No matter what happens, we’re not giving up our voice,” Wahlberg says. “We’re not giving up our freedom to come together, we’re not giving up our freedom to negotiate, because it’s workers like us who make life better for everyone. And no one is going to stop us from improving life in our families, our communities and our state.”

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MnDOT maintenance worker Bryan Kirsch of Local 221 called on members to door knock, talk to people and vote.

“We need somebody in office who will protect our rights, not take them away,” Kirsch says. “”If we don’t do anything nothing will change. I don’t want to end up like Iowa or Wisconsin. We’ve got to do something to stop them.”

Workers shared stories about how having strong unions has bettered their lives, from a pregnant couple depending on health care and paid parental leave, to a MnDOT worker fighting for safer roads and bridges, to a correctional officer fighting for improved staffing to keep workers and inmates safe.

Mike West of Local 599 is part of the first response team that breaks up fights and helps with medical emergencies at Minnesota Correctional Facility in St. Cloud. His team is supposed to have six people per shift; sometimes there’s only one.

“With 1,100 inmates in our facility, that’s just plain irresponsible, not to mention disrespectful,” West says. He says they’re so short-staffed, they’re often forced to work overtime. By the time they can finally go home, workers are so tired, some of them have fallen asleep at the wheel and crashed their cars.

“Public workers like us protect the public. We deserve the freedom to go to work knowing we’re safe and supported on the job,” West says.

PERA worker Denna Thurmond of Local 2829 says she’s 62 and near retirement. She says members must hold lawmakers accountable if they try to monkey with a pension bill that took three years to create and recently passed the Legislative Commission on Pensions and Retirement on a bipartisan vote.

“When you get to my age, you shouldn’t have to worry about whether you’re going to have health care, a pension or that your benefits will get cut,” Thurmond says. “After a lifetime of hard work, you should have the freedom of peace of mind, of knowing you can retire with dignity.”

Members asked their legislators to: protect retirement security, retain and train child protection workers, support local control, invest in safe staffing and transportation, support worker rights and approve state worker contracts.

Watch the live-streamed video and view more photos on Facebook.

Learn more about our legislative agenda for 2018 here.

Check out the entire photo album on Flickr.