Profile in Action: Local 304's Tommy Fuglestad

SNEAK PEAK: From the upcoming WFSE/AFSCME March 2018 Washington State Employee newspaper and AFSCME Now

First deaf member of Executive Board wears armor of empathy to fight for others

Tommy Fuglestad, Local 304: “We can all learn to respect each other”

Tommy Fuglestad -- like most of those reading this -- is a dedicated state employee and passionate union member.

As a groundskeeper for the past 2 ½ years on the campus of North Seattle College, he says he wants “to make sure that everything looks good.”

“You name it, I want to take care of it,” he says.

As a relatively new Local 304 member, he’s already made a difference representing his members as a delegate to the 2017 WFSE/AFSCME Convention held this past October.

“That was awesome,” Fuglestad says. “That’s where I met so many new people and developed so many friendships, which I think made me think I could get more involved in this.”

And he did.

In November, delegates from the union’s Higher Education Policy Committee elected Fuglestad to one of the committee’s 15 allotted seats on the WFSE/AFSCME Executive Board. WFSE/AFSCME Communications Committee member Katie Nelson interviewed him on Facebook after his election. He helped chart new directions when the board met for a weekend retreat in January.

In late February, he got down to business when the board met for its first session of a two-year term that could see a momentous sea change depending on how the United States Supreme Court rules on the Janus case.

In between, Fuglestad embraced the drive to move legislation in Olympia to increase affordable housing options for state workers in high-cost areas of the state. He took part on Martin Luther King Day Lobby Day and later testified for the affordable housing bill.

“It’s impacting a lot of state workers because their cost of living is not equal to wages,” Fuglestad -- wearing an AFSCME Green t-shirt – told a House committee in January.

The bill didn’t pass in 2018 but he intends to try again in 2019.

“It doesn’t mean that the fight is over because you can still keep fighting for it,” Fuglestad says. “If it doesn’t work the first time, try again.”

He is also one of the youngest union board members and member leaders WFSE/AFSCME has ever seen.

The rest of his story...

All that you’ve read until now should be news enough about Fuglestad. But there’s more to his story.

Tommy Fuglestad is deaf.

“I prefer to be called deaf,” Fuglestad said in a recent interview assisted by an interpreter.

“Deaf is my primary identity. I believe I’m the first person in the history of the Executive Board to be a deaf person....

“Deaf people and hard-of-hearing folks – there’s usually just one of us but they typically can inspire all of the rest of the members.

“You can say something to the general population and be representative for what other people are feeling or going through and encourage other people to be motivated and think about what they can do as well.”

Born in California and raised in the Seattle area, Fuglestad attended Snohomish High School and graduated from Juanita High School.

He got his first experience of what the Washington Federation of State Employees members can do when, after high school, he attended what is now known as the Center for Childhood Deafness and Hearing Loss in Vancouver (formerly called the State School for the Deaf). He saw Local 1225 members standing up for a fair contract.

He got job-training as a groundskeeper and in September 2015 he started with the Seattle College District.

Thanks to Local 304 mentors Rodolfo Franco and Amy Lazerte, Fuglestad stepped up and got involved to make a difference on such issues as fair pay and inequality.

Fuglestad says as a deaf person, he’s faced challenges when it comes to inclusion and fair treatment.

“Yes, I have experienced discrimination or bullying,” Fuglestad says.

There have been times, he says, when “I was treated as someone who was not equal. For example, some people may always be trying to take advantage of me as a person with a disability in certain situations.”

But instead of emphasizing the times he’s been treated poorly, Fuglestad instead wears an armor of empathy he uses to stand up for others who face mistreatment because of a perceived disability.

His election to the governing board of the largest union for the largest employer in the state of Washington (state agencies, colleges and universities) sends a strong message about who Fuglestad is and who we are as a union.

“I’m willing to fight for equality, especially for people with disabilities and to promote diversity issues so that we can all learn to respect each other,” Fuglestad says.

“Anyone who experiences bullying or discrimination or any kind of inequality, that’s what I’m trying to address,” he adds.

“The union is a good way” to address these and other challenges, he says.

Fuglestad is also committed to the principle that we should all be 100% Union Proud and sign a 100% Union card. It’s the best defense against an adverse decision on the Janus case from the U.S. Supreme Court.

“Yes, I think we should be 100 percent union because we don’t know what the final court decision will be on Janus,” he says.

On the day the Janus case came up for oral arguments at the high court, Fuglestad joined colleagues in hosting a 100% Union lunchtime session at North Seattle College to explain the impacts an adverse court ruling could have.

“We are standing strong together!
” he said on social media after the event.

Ask him what’s at stake and Fuglestad will gladly share his own story.

“The union has really added to my life because personally it’s given me a way to be involved, something to do to really fight for equality,” Fuglestad says.

“Equality’s a big issue and just respecting each other and fighting for our rights. I’m more than willing to do that.”

See more photos in the March 2018 Washington State Employee coming to your mailbox soon.