AFSCME Secretary-Treasurer Elissa McBride, in her keynote address to the AFSCME 44th International Convention, lifted up three AFSCME volunteer member organizers (VMOs) who shared their experiences as union activists.
Michael Stewart of Local 328 (Oregon AFSCME Council 75), Nicanora Montenegro of United Domestic Workers/AFSCME Local 3930 in California and Karla Mitchell of AFSCME Local 17 (Council 93) in Massachusetts talked about what motivated them to get involved as VMOs and how they make a difference in workers’ lives through individual conversations.
Mitchell, a direct care service worker, said she was inspired to become a VMO during an organizing campaign to seek benefits for part-time workers at community college campuses in Massachusetts.
“I heard about the part-timer workers not receiving any benefits and I just had to stand up to be able to support them, to help them get the benefits they deserved,” she said.
Stewart, a medical assistant, said being a VMO is not as intimidating as it might sound, since most people are receptive to hearing from other workers.
“Most people you knock on their door are actually happy to see you,” he said. “They’re surprised that you’re taking time out of your weekend, your days away from work, to come to talk to them about their issues and their problems.”
Montenegro, a home care provider, said one of the biggest obstacles a VMO faces is convincing other workers that their voices matter.
“They must say I am a caregiver; I am an essential worker. I am important. I should be seen,” she said.
McBride, a longtime organizer, tied those VMO experiences to her job as secretary-treasurer.
“One of the most important and inspiring parts of my job is to support you in building strong and growing local unions. That means being on the front lines of activism – side-by-side with you on the doors, in the streets, and in the caravans,” she said.
McBride said this year in particular “has taught us once again that having a union is the best way to make sure that we are safe at work. The best way to fight for funding for the services we provide. The best way to achieve racial, gender and economic justice. And the best way to ensure that we are all treated with fairness and dignity.”
And VMOs play a key role in making our union strong, she said.
“The bottom line is, we all have a role to play in growing our union. AFSCME members are never stronger than when we are organized, mobilized and united,” McBride said. “Let’s show the world the AFSCME Strong power!”
Watch McBride’s keynote address here.