Volunteer Member Organizers Making a Big Difference in Organizing Campaign in Vermont 02/01/2013

Council 93 Volunteer Member Organizers (VMOs) continue to make a tremendous impact in ongoing efforts by AFSCME International (www.afscme.org) to organize approximately 6,000 home care workers in the State of Vermont.

Last month, a team of VMOs participated in a three-week intensive effort to visit the homes of these essential human services workers. The home-visit campaign coincided with the filing of a bill in the Vermont State Legislature that would allow these workers to collectively bargain with the state. Led by Council 93 President Charlie Owen under the direction of AFSCME International's Carolyn Klinglesmith, the VMOs visited the homes homecare providers during a three-week period that started on January 9. The VMOs secured the signatures of a number of workers on cards indicating their desire to form a union with AFSCME, adding to the hundreds of homecare workers who have already signed AFSCME authorization cards.

Council 93 Executive Director and International Union Vice President Frank Moroney praised Owen and the other VMOs for their efforts noting that AFSCME members are the best qualified people to educate others on the benefits of becoming part of the AFSCME family. "These VMOs know what AFSCME has done for them and their families," Moroney said. "They can share firsthand knowledge on how unions lift people up into the middle class and most importantly, how they keep them there by fighting for fair and equitable pay and decent healthcare and retirement benefits. In my mind, the VMOs are the most critical part of any organizing campaign."

Owen, a Local Union and Council leader for more than three decades called the experience "a real eye opener." As someone who has spent the bulk of his union career negotiating and serving contracts in the City of Boston, Owen found his experience in the organizing end of the union business to be both educational and rewarding. "I was really struck by the situations of these homecare providers and the individuals and families who rely on them for care, said Owen, who braved sub-zero temperatures for a week of home visits in rural Vermont. "Some individuals need 24-hour care and supervision but the state limits the amount of hours of publicly-funded care they can receive to 30 hours per week. As a result, family members have to assist in the caregiving and many of the workers have to pick up second and third jobs to supplement their low pay."

Under current Vermont law, homecare workers are not allowed to collectively bargain with the state. Over the past year, AFSCME staff and volunteer member organizers have been on the ground in Vermont meeting with homecare providers and educating them on the benefits of forming a union with AFSCME. At the same time, AFSCME has been developing the legislation needed to facilitate unionization of these workers. This legislation was introduced at the start of the new legislative session which began on January 9. The goal is to secure passage of the legislation by July 1 while simultaneously securing the signatures of homecare workers on cards indicating their desire to form a union with VT Homecare United-AFSCME (http://vthomecareunited.org/). A minimum of 30% of homecare workers are needed to sign these cards in order to petition for an election. Since the campaign started, approximately 18 Council 93 VMOs have volunteered time in Vermont including Executive Board Member Christopher "Tiger" Stockbridge and Executive Board Sergeant- at-Arms Paul Faria. Owen, who plans on returning to Vermont for another round of visits in the coming months, said he strongly encourages other AFSCME leaders to spend a few days on the organizing campaign. "It reminded me of why I got into this business in the first place," he said. It's a real challenge but for people like me who have been doing union work for a long time, it's great opportunity to learn more about a very important part of what we do. I'm asking all members to take a look at their calendars for the next four of five months and find a way to volunteer their time for a few days. I promise that they will be very happy they did."