AFSCME Council 65 Director's Address to the 2020 Convention

This last year has been a difficult one.  Council 65 and many of our locals have experienced leadership changes and, as always, we see some staffing changes as people move on for other opportunities or retire.  We have been working hard to ensure your Locals have all the tools and resources that they need to represent you and your brothers & sisters thru grievances and contract negotiations.  These past months have thrown us one curveball after another, forcing us all to navigate some unprecedented times.  The Coronavirus pandemic has taught us a few things.  First and foremost, how to slow down.  We witnessed this Country come to a standstill for weeks as ‘Stay at home’ orders were instituted.  Those brought on additional challenges such as, how to educate our kids from a distance.  Our paraprofessionals read to kids via Google Classrooms and Facetime, our food service and transportation workers were making and delivering food to kids who needed a good meal and counted on their school to put food in their mouths.  Our Human Services employees were learning how to work from home and assist clients from afar and our courts staff were learning how to ZOOM court hearings. During conference calls we introduced our coworkers to our hopefully well-behaved children and pets. I used to think ‘can you hear me now’ was only for my Verizon Service! We also had many members who were not able to work from home.  Potholes and road work can’t be done from a home office.  AFSCME healthcare professionals became our first line of defense, sanitizing facilities and shifting around services to create room to treat COVID-19 patients and maintain quality care for all patients. while our first responders never stopped protecting our communities.  

AFSCME Council 65 worked tirelessly to stay on top of the day to day changes regarding COVID-19 requirements and CDC guidelines.  Our staff worked non-stop along with many of you to communicate you’re your employers and assure members who needed time off to help their kids distance learn, or to quarantine, got the leave they needed.  We were able to pass a Workers compensation bill for first responders so that workers on the frontlines of this pandemic would NOT have to PROVE they contracted COVID in the line of work in order to qualify for workers compensation.

The MAIN thing we have learned is that AFSCME MEMBERS are Stronger than ever when we STAND TOGETHER.  Workers in Cass County worked together to contact the MN Dept of Labor when their County Administrator revoked any field work and attempted to cram them all together in the office with NO ability to work remotely.  In short order the employer was forced to change course to allow for social distancing and enable employees to work from a home office.  In Highway shops, libraries, city halls and workplaces all across our membership employees stood together to demand employers implement proper social distancing and safety measures in their worksites.

Unfortunately, the longer this pandemic continues the situation is only getting more dire.  Many have lost employment, businesses in all of our communities are struggling or have been forced to close.  AFSCME has consistently pressed for action from the Federal Government to pass additional COVID-19 relief bills such as the HEROES ACT.  We are keenly aware that if there is no additional financial relief provided to Local governments, public employees will only face more pain, and the private sector will continue to see job losses with no return in sight.   

We all feel it, our nation is divided.  No one is listening to each other.  It doesn’t matter if you are a Republican, a Democrat or part of the Legalize Marijuana party we all ultimately want the same things.    Fair Wages. Good Benefits. The ability to provide for our families, put Food on the table, good schools, safe roads, clean water from our faucets, police when we need protection, fire fighters when there is a fire, and ultimately the ability to enjoy life with those that matter to us.  These are not just the things we want; they are what AFSCME members provide to their communities every day.   

When we have the ability to ELECT the people who we will negotiate against we cannot afford to sit it out.  We need to know if candidates from school the board to Congress, support US- the WORKERS.  IF a candidate wants to privatize your job that is not someone we can afford to support.  IF a candidate wants to ELIMINATE your pension that is not someone we can afford to support.  Union Member Dues dollars ARE NOT used for these purposes, all political work is done through our Voluntary PEOPLE program using contributions for you and your brothers and sister.  When AFSCME endorses a candidate, we support the leader who supports YOU and YOUR rights as a worker to have a voice in your workplace.  Rebecca Friedrichs was the beginning of the RIGHT TO WORK FOR LESS laws in our pubic sector, clearing the way for the Janus decision.  These Laws allow employees to FREE RIDE off from hard working, dues paying union members to get the same benefits without paying dues.  SHE WAS THE OPENING SPEAKER AT THE REPUBLICAN NATIONAL CONVENTION CELEBRATING THAT THIS PRESIDENT SHARES HER SUPPORT FOR RIGHT TO WORK!  He has worked to repeal Rules that provide workers the FREEDOM to form unions quickly to protect their rights in the workplace. This administration continues to chip away at worker rights and protections. AFSCME is fighting every day to PROTECT YOUR RIGHTS IN THE WORKPLACE by pressing candidates & leaders on these important issues.

As Americans it seems we have allowed our political differences to define us instead of looking at what makes us similar to each other. We have started to define people and events in our lives by Facebook Memes and Twitter Tweets with no actual factual basis to the things we are sharing.  They are merely taglines.  We blame others when they fail instead of considering how we can assist in lifting them up.  We have lost the concept of empathy- the ability to place ourselves in someone else’s shoes and understand how they are feeling, what they are going through as a person.  We have labeled everything in our lives a ‘freedom’ and have lost the ability to see how imposing what we consider a freedom may actually limit the freedoms of others. We have forgotten that rally cry from the early days of our movement, “An injury to one, is an injury to all.”

We are a community, we are a brotherhood and sisterhood, we are a nation, we must be able to share empathy for the struggles others are facing.  From the beginning, unions have fought to reduce the struggles of those in less fortunate situations. The Labor Movement saw the problem with child labor and eradicated it, we saw the exhausted worker striving to take care of his family and demanded a standard 40 hour workweek and laws on overtime pay, we saw a problem with people losing pay to spend a day with family and pushed to create vacation pay and sick pay, LABOR saw a problem with the treatment of persons of color and has stood in solidarity for RACIAL JUSTICE, It was our movement that saw the problem with women and persons of color not being valued the same as their white male coworkers and we pushed for equal pay laws and we continue to push for them today as Minnesota & South Dakota have still not passed the Equal Rights Amendment.

We know that Empathy is understanding that just because I DO NOT personally EXPERIENCE SOMETHING DOES NOT MEAN IT DOES NOT EXIST for someone else


We must listen to others and how their experiences have impacted them, and how it makes them view the world as they experience it.

My husband is a mechanic, he often picks up police cruisers or drives the cars where they need to go.  Over the last few years, he has started to see a different world from his own when he is in that police car.  He tells me when he drives, white people pay no attention to the car he is driving they outright text on their phone in front of him with no regard for the fact they are breaking the law in front of a police car.  When he comes upon ANY person of color, they immediately divert their gaze away from him.  They are doing nothing wrong, other Going about their day. They put their hands at 10 and 2 as we were taught in drivers’ education and try to make themselves invisible…  He says he can FEEL it…. He can feel their FEAR.  He can SEE it in their eyes. That is EMPATHY.  He can see in that moment and FEEL how that person is experiencing the moment different from him. 

Is it too much to ask that our LGBTQ union members and citizens can live without fear of retribution, is it too much to ask that our union brothers & sisters of color can live and work without fear of retribution or being prejudged as guilty due to the color of their skin?  

When our leaders refuse to lead, we must step up and lead ourselves.  Consider the path others are walking have EMPATHY and KNOW that we have not all had the same experiences or opportunities in life.  WE all want the same things specifically the opportunity to provide for our families.   We must return to caring for one another as humans, as we are all members of the human race and we owe it to each other and to ourselves to find ways to build bridges and meet each other with kindness. We cannot view helping others as a cost or burden but instead as an opportunity to work together to lift up one another. This is who we are as a Labor Movement, this is who we are as AFSCME Council 65.