Executive Director Reports

AFSCME is "One Strong Union"


Roberta Lynch

Roberta Lynch

In just a few short weeks, hundreds of delegates and guests representing AFSCME local unions in every corner of Illinois will converge on Springfield for Council 31’s biennial convention.

The convention theme this year is “One Strong Union.” AFSCME local unions, leaders and rank-and-file activists show every day what that means: Unity. A common purpose. Power in numbers. The knowledge that we all do better when we all do better, and the grit to stick together, one day longer, when the going gets tough.

Of course, we can only be One Strong Union at the council level because we are comprised of hundreds of strong unions at the local level. And each local can only be One Strong Union because of members who are committed, informed, and involved.

Paging through this issue of On the Move, you will see the theme in action time and again. In the joy and pride of members marching together on Labor Day. In the newly organized union members winning their very first contracts.

You see it in Urbana-Champaign, where it took One Strong Union to stop the layoff of an AFSCME member at the university library. In Schaumburg and Springfield, where locals used the grievance procedure to enforce our contracts and win justice for members.

You see it in the rank-and-file leaders getting elected to represent their coworkers on the boards of public pension funds, in the AFSCME members testifying to the General Assembly about the need to improve Tier II pension benefits, and in our work all across the state to address the crisis of understaffing by letting our friends and neighbors know about the thousands of good union jobs available in public service.

We also see the theme One Strong Union in action across so many important battles we’ve waged and won, big and small, throughout the last two years.

That strength in solidarity is how AFSCME members in the city of Chicago won their new contract. “One Strong Union means to me that we’re sticking together to get what we need,” Local 1669 President Denise Williams says. “The impact is better when we come together and have one voice.”

The same unity and purpose produced the new agreement for state of Illinois employees, members of the bargaining committee agree. Tim Bowden, vice president of Local 494 at Pontiac Correctional Center, says, “One person doesn’t make a union. Everybody has a part and we all work together. We will stand together, we will fight together, we will do anything for the collective whole to make all working people’s lives better.”

“Being One Strong Union means it doesn’t matter what agency you work for, who you are or what you do, we’re all in this together,” says Local 2615 Vice President April Smith, a state human service caseworker in Rock Island County. “We’re all bettering the lives of each other and all the residents of Illinois.”

Working together as One Strong Union is also how direct support professionals (DSPs) have made strides to raise their wages. They’re employed by dozens of different agencies that serve individuals with disabilities, but they’ve made progress for all by raising their voices as one through AFSCME.

DSP Christine Rivera, secretary and a steward with Local 3492 at Ray Graham Association, says, “People are living better lives. We’re starting to get paid what we deserve. And I know that in the future, it’s just going to get better, because there’s more and more people seeing that strength in numbers does make a difference.”

And naturally, new unions can’t be born without a coming together of workers who were previously kept apart, often on purpose, by their bosses.

“One Strong Union means to me that as many people as possible are included, and they all feel like their voice is heard,” says Myia Brown, a member of the AFSCME bargaining committee at the Art Institute of Chicago, where workers formed their union just a year ago. “It’s a lot of community, a lot of love—and I have a lot more brothers and sisters out of this experience, after organizing.”

It’s critically important to remember that being One Strong Union isn’t a snapshot frozen at a moment in time. It’s a continuous process that’s always ongoing.

As we attend our union meetings, read our union newsletters or emails, take action alongside our coworkers or join other locals in solidarity, we are building our union stronger. The powerful forces against us never let up, so we have to constantly reinforce our unity and strength too.

As we do, I’m confident in the knowledge that AFSCME—from the smallest local union to our statewide council and nationwide—will continue to be One Strong Union.

As Local 3654 President Lynn Fields from Southwestern Illinois Correctional Center says so powerfully, “AFSCME is about solidarity and liberation for the working class, full stop. Our history proves it, going all the way back to the sanitation workers in Memphis, Tennessee. We’re the biggest, we’re the baddest, and we’re the strongest. AFSCME is One Strong Union.”