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Dividing Workers into Camps is a Right-Wing Plot, not the AFSCME Way

Photo Credit: Luis Gomez
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Dividing Workers into Camps is a Right-Wing Plot, not the AFSCME Way
Stacy Chamberlain, executive director of Oregon AFSCME

Representing all workers in a bargaining unit – not just those who pay dues – is how AFSCME can continue to build power even as billionaires, corporate CEOs and their right-wing allies try to destroy the labor movement, AFSCME activists said during a panel discussion Wednesday.

Afterward, delegates adopted a resolution reaffirming the AFSCME’s commitment to exclusive representation, barring so-called fee-for-service arrangements, members-only contracts and other measures that undermine the duty of fair representation. 

On Wednesday, four International vice presidents reiterated that we can’t build collective power if AFSCME fights only for dues-paying members and ignores nonunion employees.

Stacy Chamberlain, executive director of Oregon AFSCME Council 75, reminded delegates that labor’s greatest achievements – Social Security, the weekend, the 8-hour work day, etc. – were “bold demands made … on behalf of millions of people who had no affiliation with unions.”

“As trade unionists – at our core – we are motivated by a sense of justice, and fairness – people shouldn’t get something for nothing,” she said. “But we cannot let emotional reaction dictate our strategy, not if we want to grow and build our collective power as a movement.”  

Eliot Seide, of AFSCME Council 5 (Minnesota), said a divided workforce is precisely what the right-wing groups that engineered the Janus v. AFSCME Council 31 case want. The Freedom Foundation, the Koch Brothers, American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) and other organizations know that’s exactly how they can destroy labor unions.

“They are laying a trap for us, sisters and brothers, in order to have workers resent and attack other workers, for members to fight nonmembers, for us to fight each other instead of fighting the boss,” Seide said. 

If we take the bait, “we – not our enemies – will destroy the unity and solidarity that we need now more than ever,” he warned.

AFSCME’s commitment to represent all workers – regardless of their membership status – is enshrined in the principle of “strength in numbers,” and forms the core of our mission.

It “is a question of solidarity versus division,” said Se'Adoreia “Cee-Cee” Brown, president of Local 199 (AFSCME Florida). “The goal for unions is to essentially recruit, educate, and develop nonmembers into dues-paying members and motivate them to be active.”

After steadily eroding workers’ rights in Iowa, the governor and the legislature recently forced public service employees to recertify whether they wish to stay united every year – requiring majority votes in bargaining unit after bargaining unit, said Danny Homan, president of AFSCME Council 61 (Iowa/Missouri/Kansas).

“Last year, we held 43 separate recertification elections. And. We. Won. 42. Of. Them. Overwhelmingly,” Homan said to applause.

The only way for AFSCME to grow is by fighting for all workers, Homan said.

“Iowa is rebuilding. We realize that the governor is the enemy – not nonmembers,” he said. “When our rights are restored and it comes time to sign up dues-paying members, we're going to be bigger and stronger than we were before.”

Chamberlin urged delegates to “step back and look at what the opposition is doing.”

“In Oregon, we have the Freedom Foundation and, like other groups across the country, they are employing one of the oldest tactics in the books, divide and conquer,” she said. “We cannot take the bait. …We need to expand our union – by both leaving the door open for nonmembers to sign up as members and organizing on broader scales. This is how we win: We must be bold, we must fight and we must organize!”