by Micheal Stewart, Local 328 Vice President.
Dear Brothers and Sisters of AFSCME Local 328,
Last month I was sworn in as the new vice president of our union. I have been active with both Local 328 and Oregon AFSCME for eight years in several different offices and roles. My goal as a member leader has always been to serve the interests of union members and working families. I consider it a privilege to now serve as your vice president.
Our union is fortunate to have highly skilled, hard-working member leaders who serve on the executive committee and executive board and in the steward program. However, we are lacking a very important element that is vital to any organization that wants to fully and honestly represent its members: diversity. Local 328 has the most diverse membership within Oregon AFSCME in terms of race, ethnicity, age, income level and immigration status — we must strive to develop leadership that is similarly diverse in order to provide a voice for all the members our union represents. The strength that comes from diversity is moral as well as practical.
The moral strength comes from having leaders who share experiences with all of the members who will be affected by our union’s decisions. This is done by making sure members from traditionally marginalized communities are empowered and are given a voice to express their questions, concerns, and satisfaction—or dissatisfaction—with both our union and OHSU.
The practical strength comes from being better able to tackle complex problems from several different points of view, backgrounds, skill sets and experiences. It also helps to avoid groupthink and balance biases that are present whenever a group of people works together to achieve a goal. An article in Understanding Science describes it this way: “[S]cience relies on a diverse community, whose personal views run the gamut: liberal to conservative, tree-hugging to business-friendly … Scientists strive to be impartial and objective … but in those occasional cases in which personal biases sneak in, they are kept in check by a diverse scientific community.” The power that diversity can bring to an organization is very often underestimated or overlooked.
The union movement hasn’t always recognized the value of a diverse membership. This fact was not lost on employers, some of whom have exploited racial, ethnic, and other tensions to pit working people against each other. Because of these past difficulties, it is important that current leaders not merely ask people to step forward but that we actively recruit and invest in an effort to improve diversity. Both unions and employers now recognize that the ethnicity, race, sex, faith, physical abilities, and sexual orientation of workers can be the bond that reaches beyond differences in job classification, wages and education. This bond of shared experience is an asset to any organization that is open, welcoming and willing to learn. AFSCME Local 328 must be such an organization.
Our union is committed to providing the moral and practical strength of diverse member leadership. We are not yet where we should be in order to fulfill this commitment. We are currently developing a plan to reach out to underrepresented members of our union to recruit folks to leadership positions within our union — this will be my top priority as vice president. I ask for your help in fulfilling this commitment. If you or a coworker are interested in or have questions about joining the steward program, executive board or some other form of service to our union, please call (503) 329-9084 or email me at vice-president@local328. With your help, we can make Local 328 an even stronger voice for our members and working families everywhere.
Michael Stewart, Vice President, AFSCME Local 328