WFSE Members Gather for Rise Up! Conference

"Knowledge is power."

Two hundred WFSE activists gathered for the June 1-2 Rise Up! Conference in SeaTac. The event brought together stewards and member organizers from across Washington to share workplace wins and learn skills and best practices.

AFSCME International President Lee Saunders addressed the conference on opening day and applauded the union’s success in a post-Janus environment.

“I want to thank all of you who’ve come to this conference to upgrade your skills and become even better member leaders,” said Saunders.

“Thank you for making the decision to rise up – to assume greater responsibility and ownership for the future of our union – your union. Because we are only as strong as our stewards, our activists, and our volunteer member organizers.”

Participants heard from a panel of activists who described how organizing their co-workers led to real changes on the job. 

Michael Ortiz, a Local 304 member and custodian from Bellevue Community College, told the story of how he and his co-workers created a network to stop management from continually changing their shifts, a method he says they will utilize again.

“I learned something,” said Ortiz. “Everyday interaction, not just with my coworkers but with other staff, the other bargaining units, as well as students … I was unconsciously organizing, not intentionally, but by default. And I’m keeping that.”

The conference reflected WFSE’s new steward structure and offered workshops in representation, organizing, political action and communications. By joining together at one conference, stewards and member organizers were able to learn from each other and build a larger toolbox for addressing workplace issues.

“I became a shop steward to help my co-workers,” said Johnna Larson, a security guard at Western State Hospital and new Local 793 steward.

“I really enjoyed the conference. Knowledge is power. The more you know, the more you can help others.”

Brittany Barber, a Local 491 member and incident coordinator at Rainier School, participated in a workshop on WFSE’s volunteer member coordinator (VMO) program. The program helps grow the union by giving members an opportunity to tell their stories.

“The union has provided me peace of mind as a single mom,” said Barber.

“I know I have affordable health care for my children and a secure retirement that will allow me to live comfortably. Our union does not just make a difference in my life, it makes a difference in my children’s lives too.”

April Sims, Secretary Treasurer of the Washington State Labor Council, provided a keynote address on Sunday. She talked about the need for solidarity in the fight for racial and economic justice.

"If we're to continue to strengthen our labor movement, if we are to rise, then we must recognize that the struggle against racial injustice is and must be a working class struggle in which the entire working class community participates."

Rise Up 2019