Executive Director Reports

Building a better future

Passing the vision of a better life from one generation to the next

Roberta Lynch

Every year Council 31 awards scholarships to graduating high school seniors based on their record of achievement and, perhaps most importantly, on an essay they must submit on what AFSCME has meant to their family. 

These essays are always fascinating to read as they reveal the extent to which children absorb (sometime almost by osmosis) the values of their parents. Time after time over many years, we have read submissions from young people who provide very specific examples of the ways that being part of a union has made their parent’s lives—and hence their own—significantly better.

When we speak of the “union difference”—higher wages, better benefits, improved working conditions—it’s important to remember that this “difference” also can have a powerful impact on the quality of family life.

That’s why it’s so impressive to see how many AFSCME members make a very deliberate effort to ensure that their children understand the value of union membership and the importance of having a voice on the job.

By passing on a deep understanding of and solid commitment to the labor movement, the parents of today are helping to lay the basis for a stronger future for unions in our country in the years to come. And in doing so, they are helping to ensure a better future for their own children and so many others.

The essay submitted by one of our scholarship winners this year, Tessa Ashley, daughter of Leslie Ashley-McLean, a member of AFSCME Local 981 at Eastern Illinois University, provides a compelling depiction of the ways that the vision of a better life based on greater fairness and equity can be passed on from one generation to the next. I share it here in the hope that it will encourage every AFSCME member to think about ways to instill in your children the labor movement’s foundational principle that all work has dignity and deserves respect.

Why the Labor Movement is Relevant and Needed More Today Than Ever!

By Tessa Ashley

I think it has become more and more clear why the Labor Movement is needed today more than ever. Watching, over and over again, workers organizing while the highly paid billionaires make more and more money off the backs of their workers. It seems that rich corporate greed takes over and the “higher-ups” try very hard to shut down workers fighting for a living wage. I wonder why corporations work so hard to dissuade people from joining unions or organizing unions. If they didn’t think unions were powerful, they wouldn’t work so hard to stop them.

I’ve been raised in a proud union home. My mother is the chief steward for AFSCME Local 981 at Eastern Illinois University. From a very young age, I often accompanied my mom to many actions related to her union. I also remember driving to Springfield to march at the Capitol during the budget impasse. Both my mom and my step-dad worked hard to help save EIU and help the many employees that were laid off during this time. It seems the union members across the state were working hard to save their own universities and help their workers.

Then came COVID. We were all stuck at home together and I witnessed my mom on Zoom after Zoom call fighting for her union members to have protective gear, safe working conditions and remote-work ability while the administration didn’t seem to care about their safety.

Now I am witnessing the faculty at EIU actually on strike. While this is not her union, she is still on the picket line in solidarity. I can now say I’ve been a part of my first strike. It is so sad to watch this happening. I grew up with this university literally in my backyard. I always thought I would attend EIU, but listening to my mom, watching her friends and colleagues forced to strike for 6 days just for a fair and living wage, I committed to another university which appears to treat their faculty and staff in a fair manner. It’s very sad when employees of a once-respected institution won’t even send their own children there. I think that speaks volumes.

In addition, I plan to pursue a degree in education. I know that when I finish my degree and I am looking for employment, I will only take a job where I have a union to support me. I know teaching is hard work that I will love, but I also know that I need a union for better working conditions and for help negotiating a good wage. It seems public education is under attack right now and a union will help ensure that educators are treated with the respect they deserve while providing one of the most important services in our lives.

With corporate greed running rampant in our own country, it is so important, now more than ever, to have strong unions. I don’t think it’s fair or right that the rich administrators and corporate CEOs continue to make more and more money while their workers do more and more work for less money just so they can get richer. I feel the labor movement is relevant and important to protect the frontline workers, those who have made the rich people rich, from unfair treatment. We need unions to support these hardworking people.