WFSE 50th Biennial Convention Energizes, Inspires, and Unites

WFSE’s 50th Biennial Convention, coinciding with the 80th year of our union’s history, took place from October 6-8 in SeaTac, WA. 

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Hundreds of delegates elected by WFSE’s local unions set our union’s priorities for the next two years, celebrated our union’s trailblazing history, and strategized to position our union for success.

They also elected our union’s leadership. WFSE’s Council Officers from the 2021-2023 term will continue to lead our union as they were re-elected by their union siblings:

  • President Mike Yestramski, Local 793
  • Vice-President Ashley Fueston, Local 443
  • Treasurer Paula Lukaszek, Local 1495
  • Secretary Tracy Stanley, Local 1400

Members cheered their officers as they were sworn in by Executive Director Kurt Spiegel.

WFSE Celebrates History with History Makers

Get a more in-depth look at our union's history here. 

In the WFSE history workshop, a panel of WFSE history-makers gathered to share insight and inspiration with current members.

Claude Burfect, Carol Dotlich, Penny Hall, Bev Hermanson, Peggy Holmes, George Masten, April Sims, and Gail Spaeth spoke about some of the groundbreaking accomplishments of past generations of WFSE activists: winning the right to collectively bargain, the comparable worth settlement, our first strike, and more.

Holmes, the first complainant in the comparable worth lawsuit, encouraged attendees to take on big challenges in the name of justice.

“Nothing would get through Olympia or Congress if we didn’t have a voice—and the voices are yours,” Holmes said. “It’s your responsibility.”

Convention attendees watched a video on the history of our union, from its founding in 1943 to today. This year marks our union’s 80th anniversary, and members are celebrating our legacy of standing up for what’s right—from civil rights to protecting public services and the hard-working people who provide them.

“We’ve inherited a rich history,” the video declared. “We were prepared for today. We are prepared for tomorrow. We are history built, future bound.”

The workshop was facilitated by Tim Welch, WFSE's Director of Communications from 1987 to 2018, and current WFSE Director of Communications Patrick Sugrue.

Convention Workshops

Convention kicked off with five workshops designed to support members in building our union.

In the first-time delegates workshop, WFSE President Mike Yestramski and Vice President Ashley Fueston aimed to get folks comfortable with participating in the democratic processes that govern Convention and our union.

They took questions from new delegates on Robert’s Rules, passing resolutions at Convention, and the importance of joining PEOPLE, our union’s political action fund.

In “Race and Labor,” facilitators Cherika Carter and Marra Johnson from the Washington State Labor Council laid out the deep connections between economic and racial injustice, and how racism divides and oppresses workers.

In the Retired Public Employees Council’s workshop, members asked detailed questions about planning for retirement with public employee pensions.

In “Building Power in the Workplace,” WFSE Labor Educator Cassandra Gulam explored member action teams with workshop attendees.

Convention Speakers

Lee Saunders, AFSCME International Union President, recorded a special video message to WFSE members. Among others, Saunders thanked and recognized WFSE members at Lakeland Village who, during the tragic Gray Fire, who pushed residents over a mile in their wheelchairs to safety.

Keynote speaker AFSCME Secretary-Treasurer Elissa McBride thanked WFSE members for their activism and public service and celebrated the successful organizing blitzes in Eastern and Western Washington that added hundreds of new members to our union.

“You are kick ass organizers,” McBride concluded. “You are AFSCME Strong!”

Washington State Attorney General and current gubernatorial candidate Bob Ferguson thanked each attending member for the services they provide for the people of Washington.

“I was proud to stand and support the nearly 800 assistant attorneys general who wanted to organize. They are now proud members of WFSE,” Ferguson said.

Washington Public Lands Commissioner and current gubernatorial candidate Hilary Franz said she was honored to work with the public employees on her team who protect our public lands.

“You represent what is the very best of Washingtonians, who keep our state running,” said Franz. “You make Washington a vibrant, healthy, prosperous state.”

Having heard from several gubernatorial candidates this convention, WFSE members will ultimately decide which candidate our union endorses at the WFSE Endoresements Conference.

WSLC President April Sims a long-time WFSE Local 793 member and former WFSE staffer, addressed the convention with her moving personal story about the power of the union. Sims is the first woman to be elected WSLC president and the first Black woman elected to the presidency of an AFL-CIO state federation.

“It feels good to be home!” Sims said. “It’s an honor to speak at your convention tonight. I’m here because my union invested in me. WFSE believed in me, supported me, and trained me, in the same way you are all here today.”

“I want to encourage you all to take advantage of the fun and the fellowship of Convention,” Sims said.

“Lean into the listening and the learning, and tap into the power and the possibility that is the labor movement. Lean into the discussions around the resolutions. Go all the workshops. Participate in all the events—because our union needs you. It is important that you’re here, that you bring your full self to this space—your lived experiences, your voices, and your opinions.”

Pramila Jayapal, congressperson for Washington’s 7th congressional district, also thanked the assembled WFSE members.

“Thank you for keeping our state running,” Jayapal said.

“Thank you for taking care of our most vulnerable, thank you for protecting our safety net services and our environment, thank you for honoring solidarity without conformity. We simply could not do anything we do in this country without you. You are on the front lines every day—please give yourselves a huge round of applause for everything you do.”

Jayapal led the crowd in a rousing chant: “When I say ‘public,’ you say ‘power!’ When I say ‘union,’ you say ‘power!’”

Washington Governor Jay Inslee thanked WFSE members for their invaluable contributions to our state and urged that WFSE use its political force to fight to protect the natural environment.

Celebrating our recent wage increases, Inslee said, “Those wage increases are not some gratuity. It is a recognition of the people who’ve committed their professional lives to helping other people.”

Constitutional Amendments and Resolutions 

WFSE convention represents the largest governing body of our union.

The business our union conducted this year included debating and voting on the following constitutional amendments and resolutions, which will help direct our union’s work for the next two years.

The full text of the resolutions that passed can be seen here. 

Officer Reports

WFSE’s president and vice president gave reports on the state of our union.

“The future of WFSE is strong,” Yestramski said. “It’s growing and it will not quit. I know nothing can stop any one of you in this room. Because who are we? — We are WFSE.”

Fueston lifted up the DCYF and DFI organizing fights and our union’s success at increasing membership numbers.

“One day our children might be state employees,” Fueston said. “I want to ensure that our union continues to get stronger for the next generation of WFSE members, just like the activists and leaders who built our union from the ground up over the past 80 years. As a leader, I know our union is strong because of all of you and what you bring to the table.”

Read the officer reports here.

Convention Awards

Throughout the convention, awards were presented to honor impactful contributions of members to organizing, job actions, and more.

The Howard Ocobock award for outstanding achievement in political activism was given to:

Margaret Clevenger (Local 443)

 Patti Daley-Shives (Local 53)

MaryKatherine Dart (Local 491)

Jeanette Obelcz (Local 889)

“I’m not going to retire yet,” said Shives while accepting her award. “It’s been an honor to work with and for everybody here. It’s my passion. I love the politics. I love the union. Thank you very, very much.”

The Medal of Valor was awarded to the Lakeland Village and the members of Local 573 for their heroic evacuation efforts during the level 3 evacuation of over 200 residents of Lakeland Village during the Gray Fire.

These members stayed at work even while their own homes were on fire, dealing with thick smoke and driving through falling, burning trees on the roadways. Many staff pushed residents in wheelchairs up hills, with the fire only a few hundred feet away. Not a single resident was harmed.

Some staff lost their homes during this tragic fire. Please donate generously to support union families affected by the Gray Fire here.

The Job Action of the Year Award was given to Jeanette Obelcz, Chelsea Burroughs and Staci Caldwell of Local 889 for their extraordinary multimedia campaign to win assignment pay for SSS job classifications at DCYF.

The Rosella Charvet Leadership Award was presented to Rob “Rees” Campbell of Local 313, who could not be in attendance as he was busy building our union at the Department of Corrections!

When the threat of a WFSE versus Fraternal Order of Police election arose, Campbell helped union siblings and coworkers understand why WFSE was the more experienced, qualified union to represent them.

WFSE Legislative and Political Action Director Dennis Eagle gave a moving speech thanking Senator Sam Hunt, this year’s George Masten Courage Award honoree, for his 26 years of service to working people in the state legislature.

Several political supporters of our union attended the banquet as well: State Senator Patty Kuderer of the 48th district, State Senator Lisa Wellman of the 41st district, Representative Tina Orwall of the 33rd district, and a staff representing State Senator Javier Valdez of the 46th district.

WFSE Executive Director Kurt Spiegel thanked another important guest, WFSE Counsel Ed Younglove of Younglove & Coker, PLLC, who has been in our members' corner and played an integral part of some of WFSE's largest successes for decades. 

PEOPLE and Legislative Awards

A Field Office Award was given for the first time at this convention, recognizing the staff field office to sign up the most members to the PEOPLE fund since the last convention, and with the most PEOPLE members in its turf. The Tacoma field office (TFO) won the award.

“TFO uses every local meeting, resource fair, and lunch and learn to sign up new PEOPLE members. They have 690 PEOPLE members and that number continues to grow. Thank you for your dedication and hard work,” said Kym Adams as she presented the award.

“Thank you so much,” said Sean Dannen, TFO supervisor, as his team joined him on stage. “It’s been a team effort of my team working with the locals and the leaders in the worksites. Great work, everybody.”

We also recognized the local union with the highest percentage of PEOPLE memberships. With nearly 25% of their members in PEOPLE, the winner was Local 491.

“We have some very engaged people who have worked very hard to sign people up,” said Willis McNabb, accepting the award on behalf of his local.

In recognition of an outstanding achievement in political activism, Local 1671 was honored with an award as well.

Local 1671 members led the effort the in 2023 legislative session to pass SB 5304, which prevents the state of Washington from outsourcing the language access services that their members provide to the citizens of Washington. Dozens of Local 1671 members traveled to Olympia to lobby their legislators and testify at hearings.

“On behalf of our local, we want to express our deepest appreciation for the support you provided us. We just came out of a brutal campaign and we were successful. Thank you so much,” said Quân Trần, as he accepted the award alongside fellow interpreters.

The three runners up for highest percentage of PEOPLE members, Locals 1181, 889, and 793, were also called to the podium for a round of applause.

Casino Night to Support our Political Action Program, PEOPLE

Convention delegates who are PEOPLE MVPs took part in PEOPLE casino night, a chance to roll the dice, connect with union siblings, and support the PEOPLE program.

The event featured raffles, a prize wheel, and games. As we’ve heard this convention, PEOPLE is a crucial part of our union’s ability to do the advocacy work that keeps our contracts funded and our agencies working.

By the end of the convention, 78 members joined PEOPLE for the first time, and 216 increased their PEOPLE contributions.

Learn about and join PEOPLE here.

Volunteer Member Organizer Panel

Volunteer member organizers (VMOs) Keith Gonzalez (Local 304), Shannon Barry (Local 53), Cherie Patnode (Local 1300), and Joshua Bartholomew (Local 573, now WFSE staff) shared stories from their time organizing in Washington and in Denver, CO with unrepresented county employees who had recently won the legal right to unionize.

AFSCME VMOs receive training on how to have effective, honest, meaningful conversations with their peers on why it’s important to take action.

Gonzalez, a Washington Conservation Corps (WCC) employee, described an impromptu trip into Gifford Pinchot National Forest one evening to connect with WCC supervisors.

“They’re having a training right now in the Gifford Pinchot National Forest, if you want to drive a few hours out there without any phone service late at night after their activities are done—and our organizer said, ‘I’m down!’” Gonzalez recalled.

“That was really cool—we got to bring an actual union staff out there and we got about a dozen people signed up that night.”

Barry was apprehensive about serving as a VMO—but she saw the necessity of building our union.

“With everything that’s going on in our country right now, this is our chance to build our union,” Barry remembered thinking. “This is our moment, we need to do it, we need to knock on the doors, we need to build this union, because it’s going to matter in the long run.”

Ultimately, Barry had a wonderful experience as a VMO. She spoke with public employees who were pro-union, but had an image of union membership as being for blue collar workers. By framing the choice to join as a way to strengthen and support their coworkers and address issues like inflation, she was able to grow the definition of a union in their minds and get cards signed

“We weren’t convincing them that unions weren’t evil—they just didn’t realize it was for them,” Barry said.

Patnode learned the importance of connecting with potential members on a personal, human level when she met a recent WFSE member who had moved to Denver in hopes of being able to afford her own home. She was unwilling to sign a card until Patnode realized she and her fellow door-knockers needed to slow down and learn more about her story.

Stepping to stand next to the woman and speaking to her “as if I’d known her for years,” Patnode heard her concerns about the pay raise she’d need to afford her own place. At the end of the conversation, the woman signed a union card.

“You have to remember: take a step back, befriend people, make it personable, and that’s how you’ll get cards signed,” Patnode said.

Bartholomew felt invigorated by his experience as a VMO—energy he wanted to bring back to winning stronger contracts for our members in Washington. The training and his conversations with other VMOs and potential new union members brought home how much opportunity our state’s relatively pro-union climate opens us to us as union organizers.

“It was an excellent experience,” he said. “It re-energized me, too. This still is a battle we have to keep fighting. We have to keep pushing hard, because we need to get contracts for our members and their families. There’s so much potential.”

We build our union one on one, member to member. Sign up to learn more about being a VMO.

Convention Comes to a Close

Members and officers rose to thank those who had served as sergeants at arms, especially those doing so for the first time, as well as the union DoubleTree hotel staff and the WFSE staff.

WFSE President Mike Yestramski closed the convention with a spirited call-and-response chant. “Who are we? AFSCME!”

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