AFSCME 75 - Yesterday, Today & Tomorrow

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An AFSCME History Timeline

"Those who profess to favor freedom and yet depreciate agitation, are people who want crops without ploughing the ground; they want rain without thunder and lightning; they want the ocean without the roar of its many waters. ... Power concedes nothing without a demand; it never has and it never will." - Frederick Douglass, American abolitionist

Fighting for Civil Service

1932 A small group of white-collar, professional employees in Madison, Wis., fearing they would lose their civil service jobs to political patronage, formed the Wisconsin State Employees Association (WSEA), which would later become Council 24 (Wisconsin State Employees Union)

1933 WSEA members hold meetings, march, demonstrate and lobby hard in the state Legislature to defeat a bill that would have dismantled the state civil service system

1935 Similar employee associations emerge in 19 states; at the American Federation of Labor (AFL) convention, the group, now known as the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME), is made a “department” of the American Federation of Government Employees (AFGE)

1936 AFSCME is granted a charter by the AFL; Arnold Zander is chosen as AFSCME’s first International president after he formed a coalition of 20 public sector locals around the country

1938 2,000 sanitation workers in Philadelphia go on strike to protest layoffs and pay cuts and win AFSCME’s first bargaining agreement with a major city

1936-1945 AFSCME focuses on lobbying in state legislatures to pass or strengthen civil service laws; membership increases from 10,000 to 73,000

1945-1946 World War II ends; the postwar period is marked by a wave of strikes as workers — 3.5 million in 1945 and 4.6 million in 1946 — strike for higher wages in the postwar economy; there is also unrest in the public sector as city employees strike in several cities

1947 Eight states pass laws that would penalize striking public workers; Congress passes the Taft-Hartley Act, which restricts private-sector unions and makes it easier for employers to break strikes

1955 AFL and CIO (Congress of Industrial Organizations) merge to form the AFL-CIO; AFSCME membership passes 100,000

Bargaining for Rights

1958 A series of strikes and demonstrations in New York City pressures Mayor Robert Wagner to sign an executive order granting collective bargaining rights to unions representing city employees; under leadership of District Council 37 President Jerry Wurf, AFSCME begins winning elections that make it the strongest public worker union in the city

1961 President John Kennedy issues Executive Order 10988, legitimizing collective bargaining for federal employees and creating a favorable atmosphere for all public employees

1964 Jerry Wurf — running on a platform of aggressive organizing, fighting for collective bargaining rights for public workers, and union reform/union democracy — is elected the second International president at the biennial AFSCME Convention

1965 A special AFSCME Convention rewrites AFSCME’s Constitution and includes a Bill of Rights for union members, a first in the American labor movement

By year’s end, several states enact collective bargaining laws for public employees; AFSCME membership reaches 250,000

Militant Demands for Respect

Mid-1960s More states pass collective bargaining laws; AFSCME’s demands for respect for public workers become linked with the civil rights movement and progressive groups that protest economic, racial and social injustice

1968 Sanitation workers in Memphis, Tenn., strike for union recognition and against the city’s discriminatory practices; Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., marches with the striking workers and is assassinated; the city agrees to recognize the workers’ union, AFSCME Local 1733

1972 William Lucy is elected secretary-treasurer of the International union; a lifelong civil rights activist, Lucy worked closely with Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. in Memphis, Tenn. and led labor’s delegation to South Africa after the election of Pres. Nelson Mandela

1975 In Pennsylvania, some 46,000 AFSCME-represented state workers strike for fair wages — the first legal, large-scale strike by public employees

Growth in AFSCME membership

Power Through Organizing and Political Action

Mid-1970s Over 60 independent employee associations affiliate with AFSCME

1978 The New York Civil Service Employees Association (CSEA), with 250,000 members, affiliates with AFSCME and pushes membership over the 1 million mark

1980s In an era of anti-public worker sentiment, AFSCME greatly increases its political activism and visibility and helps elect AFSCME-endorsed candidates at all government levels; collective bargaining rights are won in three new states: Illinois, Ohio and Nebraska

1981 President Ronald Reagan breaks a strike by PATCO (Professional Air Traffic Controllers Organization), beginning an era of attacks on workers in both the public and private sectors

AFSCME’s 60,000-member delegation, the largest from any single union, leads the AFL-CIO Solidarity Day — a massive demonstration in Washington, DC, demanding fair treatment for American workers

City workers in San Jose, Calif., members of AFSCME Local 101, wage the first strike in the nation’s history over the issue of pay equity for women workers

AFSCME President Jerry Wurf dies

Gerald McEntee is chosen as the union’s third International president. He began his AFSCME career in 1958 as a member and continued as an organizer and leader in Pennsylvania. He led the drive to unionize more than 75,000 public service workers in Pennsylvania — the largest union mobilization in the United States at that time

1989 The National Union of Hospital and Health Care Employees (NUHHCE) affiliates with AFSCME and solidifies the union as the leading voice for the rights of health care workers

1990 AFSCME membership surpasses 1.2 million

1998 Delegates at AFSCME’s Convention commit to a bold program of aggressive organizing

AFSCME in the 21st Century

2001 60,000 public service workers in a dozen states and Puerto Rico organize with AFSCME — the largest single year of organizing in three decades

2002 Another 55,000 workers join AFSCME; membership reaches 1.3 million

2004 AFSCME Convention delegates passed the 21st Century Resolution, creating a committee to examine every aspect of the union and to make recommendations to the 2006 AFSCME Convention

2006 AFSCME increased its ranks to 1.6 million members

The 21st Century Power to Win plan was adopted at 37th AFSCME International Convention, and delegates participated in a town hall meeting to discuss implementation of the plan

Due to grassroots efforts across the country, AFSCME helped stop the Bush administration from privatizing Social Security

Through concerted efforts, the union helped win six governors’ houses and took back legislative chambers in 10 states, and won back the U.S. House of Representatives and the U.S. Congress

2007 The union created a new brand and identity which included the new logo and tagline: We Make America Happen

2008 40,000 volunteers mobilized to elect Pres. Barack Obama and Vice-Pres. Joe Biden

2009 AFSCME was the top organizing union in the AFL-CIO

AFSCME played a major role in winning health care reform and getting fiscal relief for states through the American Reinvestment and Recovery Act (ARRA)

AFSCME convened the first ever national Next Wave Conference, for new and young leaders of local unions and councils. Close to 600 Next Wavers converge on Chicago, Ill.

2010 Lee A. Saunders was elected International secretary-treasurer in July at the International Convention. Saunders joined the Ohio Civil Service Employees Association (OCSEA) when he worked for the state of Ohio in his 20s. Saunders has worked for AFSCME in many capacities since 1978, most recently as executive assistant to AFSCME Pres. Gerald McEntee. In that role, he was responsible for managing the most effective political and legislative operation in the history of the American labor movement.

2011 In February 2011, nearly 200,000 Wisconsin public service employees, including more than 60,000 AFSCME members, lost the right to bargain collectively over health care, retirement and working conditions. In response, tens of thousands of protestors demonstrated at the Capitol in Madison for months. A recall campaign was mounted that ultimately resulted in two Republican state senators being unseated from office.

In Ohio, Senate Bill 5 (SB 5) targeted collective bargaining for public workers. AFSCME members, working with other unions and coalition partners, gathered enough signatures to place a repeal referendum on Ohio’s November 2011 ballot. Ohioans overwhelmingly voted to repeal SB 5 and to protect collective bargaining for public employees.

© 2012 American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, AFL–CIO