Rise Up 2023 Inspires Solidarity

The weekend of March 17-18, WFSE activists, upcoming stewards, and member leaders came together in SeaTac, WA for the 2023 Rise Up conference. Rise Up is our union’s conference for member leaders to build connections and learn from one another. This year was our first opportunity to convene in person since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic.

We all know that member leaders are experts not only at their jobs serving the public, but in their roles engaging and supporting their union siblings. Their everyday excellence and innovation provided many opportunities for shared learning and growth during Rise Up. Together, WFSE members are steadfast in their drive to build our union and bring more folks in to solidarity. That was on full display at this conference.

Attendees gathered for a banquet and performance of the Labor Chorus on Friday night, followed by a welcome plenary featuring WFSE members sharing powerful stories about organizing in their workplaces for health and safety.

Our Union Means Safer Workplaces

Panelists included Dianne Womack, Local 782 member and custodian at Eastern State Hospital (ESH); Kym Adams, Local 889 member and case resource manager with the Developmental Disabilities Administration (DDA); Michele Stelovich, Local 889 member and case manager with the DDA; Tashia Hankerson, Local 3488 member and patient services specialist at Harborview Medical Center; and Chuck Pirtle, Local 1181 member and program specialist with the Department of Labor and Industries.

Tears were shed as Womack shared the tragic story of a coworker who lost her life to domestic violence and the outpouring of solidarity that followed to make concrete change at ESH. Killed by another ESH employee whose background showed a history of attacking partners, the lost union sibling was honored with a fund to support her family and a welling of support from WFSE members, including sponsorship of the Refuse to Abuse 5k.

Womack and other Local 782 members, determined that no similar lapse in background checks would ever be permitted again, worked together to hold management accountable, leading to a change in leadership and a new, better policy regarding background checks.

“Now, if you change jobs, you get a background check,” Womack said of the victory. “People who have records like this will no longer work at ESH amongst vulnerable people.”

Other panelists spoke of profound dedication to keeping their union siblings safe during the COVID-19 pandemic, their experiences using health and safety committees to make positive change, and the power of solidarity: “If someone else is not safe, we won’t give up until everyone is,” Adams said.

Recognizing Outstanding WFSE Members

Awards were given to lift up and recognize the dedication and hard work of our amazing stewards. This year, Stephanie Doyle, Local 1020 member and program manager at the Everett Community College Early Learning Center was awarded the Howard Jorgensen Organizing award. The Laurie Merta Steward of the Year Award was presented to Paula Lukaszek, Local 1495 president and plumber at the University of Washington. Jeni Fleming, a counselor with American Behavioral Health Services and Local 2824 member, was awarded the Rising Star Award.

A new award was given for the first time this year: the President’s Award, given by WFSE President Mike Yestramski to Jeanette Obelcz, Local 889 member and CPS supervisor at the Department of Children, Youth and Families (DCYF). Obelcz was recognized for her extraordinary leadership in the DCYF campaign to win raises for some of the agency’s most underpaid workers.

The award winners had one thing in common: they were all examples of selfless dedication to union leadership, putting in sleepless nights and showing creativity and conviction in the face of daunting challenges.

Movie Night!

The WFSE Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion Committee hosted a movie night on Friday featuring the film Brother Outsider: The Life of Bayard Rustin. Rustin was a famed civil rights organizer and worked for racial equality and gay rights, as well as playing a key role in organizing the 1963 March on Washington. His work as a Black gay leader in justice movements has much to teach activists today.

On Saturday, members attended two workshop sessions with topics including:

  • Organizing with social media
  • Building political union power
  • The Washington State Labor Council’s Race & Labor training
  • Documenting discrimination in the workplace

Workshop participants were encouraged to collaborate in the workshops, practice new skills, and reflect on how to apply learnings in their work.

Members Speak on Growing Our Union

The conference closed with a second plenary, “Democracy, Justice and Worker Power,” on building strong relationships to bring all workers into our union and support them in their fights for justice, including those who impacted by societal inequity and oppression.

The closing panel featured Carol Denison, WFSE Local 491 member and nurse at Rainier School; Staci Caldwell, Local 889 member and social and health program consultant at DCYF; Debbie Sills, Local 1326 member and social service specialist at DCYF; and Jade Monroe, Local 872 member and environmental specialist at the Department of Ecology.

They spoke about the importance of:

  • Reaching members who may have not previously been engaged in our union
  • How to connect with workers who are teleworking
  • Strategizing to support marginalized workers

Check out the WFSE Flickr for more photos of this dynamic weekend.

Interested in forming strong relationships and making positive change at your worksite? Consider getting involved with a Member Action Team.