October 24, 2023

One Strong Union: AFSCME Council 31 23rd Biennial Convention Recap

More than 500 delegates, alternates, and guests met in Springfield on October 19-21 for Council 31’s 23rd Biennial Convention under the banner of “One Strong Union” to chart our union’s path forward over the next two years.

Two rounds of workshops helped equip participants with the knowledge and tools necessary to wage successful contract campaigns, conduct a strike, launch grassroots actions to improve Tier 2 pensions, build community support for their fights, and much more.

Special guest speakers included AFSCME International President Lee Saunders and United Mine Workers of America President Cecil Roberts, who delivered a rousing speech that looked back at how far organized labor has come from the times when striking workers were massacred by corporate mercenaries—and how strength and solidarity can prevent us from returning to those dark times. Roberts hailed AFSCME as a key force for worker justice today.

Rank-and-file activists shared stories about wins in Rock Island (electing one of our own to the state legislature), Chicago (Field Museum employees organizing) and statewide (the state contract campaign), as well as the continuing struggle for a fair contract in Edwardsville (SIUE employees) and the progress achieved by disability caregivers by lobbying the state legislature.

The convention premiered a new video that highlighted some of the key battles AFSCME members in Illinois have fought—and won—over the past two years.

Watch the video!


The convention had an amazing soundtrack this year. Listen to the playlist here!

Strengthening our union

AFSCME members are building their unions stronger and stronger every day. This helps all of us fight for better wages, benefits and working conditions—but, as Executive Director Roberta Lynch said in her opening address, it also advances the mission that is at the core of everything we do as union members.

“We’re going to continue marching forward arm in arm, bound together by our determination to continue to improve the lives of our members; to stand up against injustice; to oppose the consolidation of wealth in the hands of the ever-fewer; and to help shape a better world. A world that ensures that people have enough to eat and a roof over their head. A world where everyone has a chance in life,” Lynch said. “We’re going to march forward together.”

Closing the convention down, Council 31 Deputy Director Mike Newman reminded delegates and guests of the power we share.

“[Our enemies] will keep trying and they will keep failing in their mission to divide and destroy us, because we have forged a bond of family and of solidarity, a bond that, with vigilance, we will never, ever allow to be broken,” Newman said. “Let’s keep moving forward as only AFSCME can. Let’s treasure our bond as a union family, and let’s move forward in the way we do it best—as One Strong Union.”

AFSCME members making a difference

Several outstanding AFSCME members were recognized for their achievements and contributions at work and in their communities. 

Public Service Award: For those who have gone above and beyond.
Posthumously awarded to Deidre Silas of Local 805, a DCFS caseworker who was murdered on the job in 2022.

Steward of the Year: Our most active, well-informed and dedicated local union stewards.
Tim Bowden, Local 494, for unfailingly fighting for his members’ rights in the high-risk conditions of a maximum-security prison.

Jane Fitzgerald-Gloria Arseneau Award: For extraordinarily dedicated union activists.
Trudy Williams, Local 3433, for tirelessly working on behalf of her members for decades, including leading them through a strike and responding to the fatal shooting of a law enforcement officer in her local.

Charting the Path Forward: Resolutions to Guide Our Union’s Future

The following are selected excerpts of resolutions adopted by delegates to the convention. To read the full text of all resolutions, click the link here.

Building solidarity from the ground up

Submitted by: Ralph Portwood, Local 1866

BE IT RESOLVED: That by building solidarity through direct action as needed to protect our rights and through organizational and social gatherings, local union affiliates can build vibrant, enduring, and fighting organizations that will effectively advocate for our members and public services.

Protecting our safety and our rights in correctional facilities

Submitted by: Nick Crisman, Local 472

BE IT RESOLVED: That AFSCME Council 31 will continue to fight for the safest possible conditions in all state and county correctional facilities; and that AFSCME Council 31 will continue to lead the fight for employee safety in adult and juvenile correctional facilities at every level in our state, including pressing for the hiring of sufficient staff to ensure that all posts can be covered without excessive overtime burdens on current employees.

Fairness for state university staff

Submitted by: Kim Pope, Local 981

BE IT RESOLVED: That AFSCME Council 31 recommits to supporting a robust system of public higher education in Illinois that is affordable to all students seeking post-secondary education, that provides the wide and diverse educational resources necessary for success in the increasingly complex world economy, and that is adequately funded to provide all staff with fair pay and decent benefits. 

We’re ready!

Submitted by: Chuck Carver, Local 1110

BE IT RESOLVED: That all contract negotiations include from the outset a plan for a contract campaign based on direct action and member involvement; and that local affiliates plan a campaign for each contract that engages members, identifies escalating actions, and includes consideration of conducting a strike if all other paths to a settlement are blocked.

Fighting for fair and equitable retirement security for public employees

Submitted by: Shane Wagner, Local 424

BE IT RESOLVED: AFSCME Council 31 will strongly oppose any measure that would unfairly diminish the pension benefits of Illinois public employees and, as such, will continue to inform and mobilize union members to defeat any such threats to their pension benefits; and that AFSCME Council 31 will work with labor allies to develop an educational and legislative strategy to address the inadequacy of the Tier 2 pension benefit, which will include amplifying the voice of Tier 2 members.

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