New Council 5 President has Unions in His Blood

AFSCME Council 5’s new chair officers ran as a tight-knit team. (From left to right): Secretary Cherrene Horazuk; vice president Carmen Brown; president Patrick Guernsey; and treasurer Destiny Dusosky.
AFSCME Council 5’s new chair officers ran as a tight-knit team. (From left to right): Secretary Cherrene Horazuk; vice president Carmen Brown; president Patrick Guernsey; and treasurer Destiny Dusosky.

When you go to rallies to fight cuts in welfare and support the Willmar 8 as a kid, chances are pretty good you’re going to grow up to be a fighter.

That’s the case for Patrick Guernsey, the newly elected president of AFSCME Council 5, who replaces the retiring Judy Wahlberg. Guernsey is president of Local 552, made up of Hennepin County probation, parole and family court services. He’s a probation officer. He ran for Board president as part of a tight-knit team with Carmen Brown, president of Local 977 (now council vice president); Cherrene Horazuk, president of University of Minnesota Local 3800 (the new secretary); and Destiny Dusosky with Local 753 (the new treasurer).

 “We’ve got to stay organized, and we’ve got to fight,” Guernsey says. “Even the small fights are important. Post-Janus, union membership is optional. I want people to want to be in our union. We have to show them why it matters so we can keep banding together to make life better for workers, our families and our communities.”

Guernsey’s a fourth-generation union member. His great-grandfather was a charter member of the steam shovel workers union, which became part of the 49ers, where his grandfather would serve as a business agent. His mother was in the U.S. Treasury Workers Union.

“It’s just kind of a family thing,” he says. “I consider our union my family.”

 “My grandfather was strident in his pro-union stance,” Guernsey says. “You couldn’t watch Channel 5 at his house because it was non-union. If people came on-site without union cards, he tossed them off-site. He was strong as an ox. I remember him pulling padlocks open with his bare hands. Up at the cabin, if a tree would die, he would push it down with his hands.”

With that deep history, it’s no surprise that Guernsey joined AFSCME as soon as he could. He started at Hennepin County in an unorganized position, then was promoted to corrections officer at the Workhouse.

“The first thing I wanted to do was sign a union card,” he says. “They said you should wait until you’re done with probation, and I said, No, I want to sign one now.”

When he was promoted to probation officer, he moved to AFSCME Local 552, where he served numerous roles including as president, vice president and steward. As a long-time PEOPLE member, he’s spent hours upon hours screening candidates and knocking on doors; he won a Rick Scott Award for Political Action. He’s been on Council 5’s Executive Board since its creation.

Guernsey and the other three new chair officers toured the state gathering input and put together a plan for the Council:

1) Be member-driven and receptive to members’ input and direction.

2) Make sure our union is inclusive of all locals and members across the state and that every voice is heard.

3) Encourage a system in which locals flourish, including communicating about Council resources and making them available.

4) Fight for better contracts through strategic planning, mobilizing members, building community support and ensuring there are credible strike threats.

The new chair officers say their first priority is electing Tim Walz and Peggy Flanagan – staunch supporters of workers and our families – as Governor and Lieutenant Governor. Then they’ll focus on organizing workers and fighting for the best wages, benefits and working conditions possible. Involving more members in every local is key.

“Members want a member-driven, inclusive Council where we’re building stronger locals and fighting for better contracts,” Horazuk says.

Brown says that includes increased transparency and communication: “People want to feel included. They want to be involved in decision making and to be heard.”

Guernsey applauded executive director John P. Westmoreland for making a point of meeting with every local in his first year on the job, something he’d like to see the Council do even more of.

“I’m hoping we’re able to get out and get more members involved and get more ideas coming into the Executive Board so that we can have more buy-in from membership,” Dusosky says.

“At New Member Orientation, we tell people that if you join a health club and pay your dues but don’t go, you don’t get any benefit out of it,” Guernsey says. “It’s the same thing with a union. If you don’t participate, you don’t benefit, and the union doesn’t benefit.”