AFSCME Q & A (Courtesy of AFSCME International)


What is AFSCME?

The American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME), AFL-CIO, is the nation's largest and fastest growing public service employees union, with more than 1.4 million members. AFSCME organizes for social and economic justice in the workplace and through political action and legislative advocacy.


Why join AFSCME?

            As AFSCME members, we have the power to make a difference. By joining together, AFSCME members have clout at the ballot box, in the halts of government and at the bargaining table. AFSCME is one of the nation's most powerful advocates for working families.

            As AFSCME members, we have the resources needed to fight for — and win — social and economic justice on the job. AFSCME is equipped with staff, expert negotiators and attorneys. AFSCME negotiates strong contracts, wins wage increases, protects jobs, settles grievances, stops privatization and ensures benefits for members from every field of public service.


Who is in AFSCME?

            AFSCME is made up of people who serve the public every day. We represent nurses, clericals, "blue-collar" workers, professionals, corrections personnel, technicians and caregivers. AFSCME members work in offices, schools and universities, corrections facilities, hospitals, government facilities, child care centers — even in homes. Many AFSCME members have special training or are certified in their respective fields.


Who runs AFSCME?

            We do. AFSCME is run by its members. Every member has a vote in the election of local union officers and board members. We negotiate our contracts, which must be approved by members. Each union has its own constitution and governing documents. Members decide on policies, activities and dues. And as AFSCME members, we are protected by our Members' Bill of Rights.



What is AFSCME's structure?

            As an AFSCME member, you become part of a local union (also called a local) consisting of the coworkers in your office, institution, department or community. AFSCME has more than 3,500 local unions in 46 states, the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico. Each local writes its own constitution, holds regular membership meetings and elects its own officers and stewards.



What is a council?

            Councils are a part of AFSCME's administrative structure. They negotiate contracts, handle grievances, arbitrate, educate and provide public relations and help with legislative and political action. Often, AFSCME local unions within one state, city or county pool their resources to form a stronger council. AFSCME has 61 councils.


What is the AFSCME International Union?

            The AFSCME International Union, based in Washington, D.C., coordinates the union's actions on major national issues such as privatization, health care and work safety. The International carries out certain national functions such as representing us in the U.S. Congress and coordinating political activities for federal elections. It also provides resources and expert help to councils and local unions in areas such as:


    * Collective bargaining and negotiations

    * Communications

    * Health and safety on the job

    * Information systems

    * Leadership education

    * Legal counsel

    * Legislative lobbying

    * Organizing

    * Political action

    * Public relations

    * Research

    * Training

    * Women's rights


Who determines AFSCME's direction?

            AFSCME members. Every two years, AFSCME holds its International Convention. AFSCME members are elected as delegates and debate and vote on the union's basic policies. Every four years, delegates elect the International Union's President, Secretary-Treasurer and 31 regional vice presidents.

            Gerald W. McEntee is the International President of AFSCME. He was first elected in 1981. President McEntee is widely recognized as one of the most effective tabor leaders in the country. He chairs the AFL-CIO Political Education Committee.

            William Lucy is AFSCME's International Secretary-Treasurer. He was elected in May 1972. Secretary-Treasurer Lucy is a long-time labor and civil rights leader, and the founder of the Coalition of Black Trade Unionists.


What is United Nurses of America?

            United Nurses of America (UNA) is an AFSCME affiliate made up of over 60,000 registered and licensed practical nurses. Through UNA, nurses in every council, local and affiliated union can be involved in the decisions that affect their working conditions and the profession of nursing. UNA fights to ensure that professional nurses retain their rightful voice in the health care system as caregivers and as advocates for quality care. To learn more, see UNA's Web site at


What is AFSCME Corrections United?

            AFSCME Corrections United (ACU) brings together 80,000 corrections officers and personnel who work in prisons across the nation. ACU is a powerful lobbying force at state and federal levels on such issues as privatization, safety and health, staffing levels and survivor benefits. Visit ACU's Web site at


What is AFSCME Retirees?

            More than 220,000 men and women who retired from public service careers comprise AFSCME Retirees, a nationwide organization dedicated to fight for common goals, such as preserving Social Security and improving retirement benefits. AFSCME Retirees' Web site is


How does AFSCME address women's issues?

            Fifty-two percent of AFSCME members are women, and many hold leadership positions in local unions. AFSCME's Women's Rights Department helps strengthen women's roles as leaders and political activists through research, technical assistance and training.


What is the AFL-CIO?

            The American Federation of Labor-Congress of Industrial Organizations (AFL-CIO) is the voluntary federation of the nation's unions, representing more than 13 million working women and men.

            The AFL-CIO's mission is to bring social and economic justice to our nation by enabling working people to have a voice on the job, in government, in a changing global economy and in their communities.


What is the difference between AFSCME and the AFL-CIO?

            AFSCME is a member of the federation and is one of the 64 unions that are affiliated with the AFL-CIO.


Does AFSCME offer special benefits for members?

            Yes. The AFSCME Advantage Program offers many money-saving services for members only. Most are free with membership; others are offered at greatly reduced costs only available to union members. These benefits are continuously enhanced and expanded. Popular services include:

    * Accident and life insurance

    * Auto and travel club

    * Auto loans

    * Credit cards

    * Family saver discounts

    * Legal services referral and discount plan

    * Mortgages and real estate

    * Scholarships

To learn more about AFSCME Advantage, call 1-800-238-2539, or check the Web site at



How can we get more power on the job?


            We have power at work by winning strong contracts and enforcing them through workplace actions and events. Our "collective bargaining" agreements cover pay, benefits, and other terms and conditions of employment. By growing our membership, and participating in legislative and political action, we win stronger contracts.


How does collective bargaining work?

            A committee of our co-workers — chosen by us — sits down and hammers out an agreement known as a "union contract" with management on every issue of concern to our bargaining unit. They sit at the bargaining table as equals with management. The union bargaining committee represents the united strength of all union members. The more members, the more strength we have. We're also stronger when members join the contract campaign through Member Action Teams and support the bargaining team. The majority of members must approve the agreement before it can become accepted as a contract.


Does AFSCME have bargaining experience?

            Yes. With AFSCME, workers have improved their jobs and the services they provide. AFSCME has negotiated more than 7,000 written agreements with better pay, benefits and working conditions. Employment standards vary from state to state and community to community, but AFSCME is familiar — and experienced — with all of them.


How much does it cost to be an AFSCME member?

            All unions are supported by dues paid by members. With most locals, you pay dues when a majority of members of your bargaining unit approve and ratify a first contract — which details the agreement between you and your co-workers and your employer on wages, benefits or other working conditions.


Does having a union mean there will be strikes?

            No. A strike is just one tactic available to workers to pressure their employer, and is a tactic of last resort. Striking is a decision made locally by you and your fellow workers. It is rare when AFSCME members have found it necessary to strike to achieve dignity on the job. That has been their decision. In most cases, a strong, well-organized local will not have to strik



Why do I need a union?

            Simply talking about issues that affect public service employees isn't enough. To make a difference, our voice must be heard. And we can be heard only when we organize as a union and gain the strength to make real change on the job. Together, our collective voice is heard — on the job and in legislatures and city halls.


Do union workers get higher wages?

            Yes.1 Union workers earn 27 percent more than non-union workers. Union wages are even greater for women and minorities. Women and African Americans represented by unions earn 34 percent more than their nonunion counterparts. And Hispanic workers with the union advantage make over 48 percent more than those not represented by a union.


Do union workers get better benefits?

            Yes.2 Union workers are more likely than their non-union counterparts to receive health care and pension benefits. Nine out of ten union members are covered by health insurance and have a pension plan — versus three-quarters of those not in a union.

Union Membership Raises Wages

Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2003


Why do I need a union now?

            By joining together and forming a union, workers can improve their jobs and their lives. With a union, workers can have a real voice at work.

            Politicians and high-level bureaucrats are working overtime to destroy our rights and diminish our power. They're attacking workers and their families where it hurts worst. Our benefits, job security, wages and promotion policies are under attack.

            Now is the time to fight back. We must make our voices heard. With a strong union, we have the power and we can win.



What is Privatization?

            Privatization is when a government body decides that a public service should be provided by a private contractor. Privatization is also referred to as "outsourcing," "competitive sourcing" or "contracting-out." Some public officials and politicians think privatization is a quick fix to address their budget woes. Others see privatization as a way to reduce services, cut government and weaken public employee unions.

            Yet privatization causes problems, not solutions. Hundreds of privatization experiences across the country have proven that contracting out critical services is inefficient and compromises the quality and public accountability of service delivery. Frequently, taxpayers end up paying more and getting less while private interests profit at public expense. In fact, many local governments that have contracted out changed their minds and restored the work to public employees.


How does privatization affect AFSCME members?

            For AFSCME members — and all public employees and the people we serve — the price of privatization is high. For workers, privatization threatens job security, pay and benefits, working conditions and career opportunities.

            AFSCME is fighting efforts to privatize public services. Our battle is in Washington, D.C., in legislatures around the nation, in city halls and in board rooms. Our strategy is to fight privatization early on and to use our resources to win each battle. But to continue to win, we must elect public officials who will not allow privatization to weaken our communities and our nation.



Why does AFSCME get involved in politics?

            Our jobs, wages and working conditions are directly linked to politics. From threatened changes in overtime to privatization to budget cuts, politics at the federal, state and local levels affect public services and workers. Through active participation in the political arena, AFSCME members have a say in policy-making and in electing politicians who support laws that benefit working families. AFSCME is one of the most powerful and politically effective unions in America.


Do my dues pay for contributions to political candidates?

            No. Under federal law, union dues cannot be used directly to fund political candidates, although they may be used to support some state-level candidates.


How does AFSCME support its political action?

            AFSCME members have a voluntary, independent political organization called PEOPLE — Public Employees Organized to Promote Legislative Equality. PEOPLE is the union's political, legislative and fundraising arm. It is supported by voluntary donations by members and is one of the biggest political action committees in the nation.

            PEOPLE is run by AFSCME members who participate in committees at the local, state and national levels. PEOPLE committees raise funds and work to elect politicians responsive to the needs of public service and health care workers.


What does PEOPLE do?

            PEOPLE helps fund campaigns and coordinate member political education programs to elect candidates who support working families. But funding is only part of the winning equation. PEOPLE offers political expertise and old-fashioned leg-work for candidates and campaigns that support AFSCME's agenda. Trained AFSCME volunteers and political activists can make the crucial difference in any campaign.


What is the AFSCME e-Activist Network?

            AFSCME e-Activist Network is a Web-based tool that helps us interact, share information and act quickly on important issues. Sign up at You'll receive informative updates on issues that are important to working families. Plus, the AFSCME Action Center allows your voice to be heard by giving you the capability to send e-mails and faxes to decision-makers on issues we care about most.



How does AFSCME reach out to workers who are not union members?

            By organizing — helping unorganized workers form unions with AFSCME — we become stronger. Five years ago, our union launched a new, unprecedented program committed to organize workers and grow our ranks. AFSCME recruits and trains the best organizers in the country, mobilizes an army of dedicated volunteer organizers and applies cutting edge strategies and old-fashioned hard work to strengthen and expand our membership.


Why is organizing important?

            Organizing and growing gives us more power. Despite AFSCME's success, union membership is down nationwide, even in the public sector. And with state budgets getting tighter, politicians will look for ways to reduce public sector payrolls. Unless we organize, the percentage of workers represented by unions will decline — which will weaken our bargaining power. The more members our union has, the more powerful we are at work and with the politicians who make decisions that affect our work and lives.


Does organizing new workers help existing members?

            Yes. Since we launched our organizing program, more than 175,000 new members joined AFSCME. By growing, we are able to negotiate stronger contracts and can offer better services and benefits for members. And now, more than ever, it's important that our voice is heard on Capitol Hill, and by our state and city governments. The more we grow, the more powerful we become in the political arena. By focusing on organizing, we're investing in our future.



As AFSCME members, we have the right to ...


1. No person otherwise eligible for membership in this union shall be denied membership, on a basis of unqualified equality, because of race, creed, color, national origin, sex, age, sexual orientation, disability, or political belief.

Freedom of speech

2. Members shall suffer no impairment of freedom of speech concerning the operations of this union. Active discussion of union affairs shall be encouraged and protected within this organization.

Freedom from bosses

3. Members shall have the right to conduct the internal affairs of the union free from employer domination.

Fair elections

4. Members shall have the right to fair and democratic elections, at all levels of the union. This includes due notice of nominations and elections, equal opportunity for competing candidates, and proper election procedures which shall be constitutionally specified.

Hold office

5. Members shall have an equal right to run for and hold office, subject only to constitutionally specified qualifications, uniformly applied.

Review financial records

6. Members shall have the right to a full and clear accounting of all union funds at all levels. Such accounting shall include, but not be limited to, periodic reports to the membership by the appropriate fiscal officers and periodic audits by officers elected for that purpose or by independent auditors not otherwise connected with the union.


7. Members shall have the right to full participation, through discussion and vote, in the decision-making processes of the union, and to pertinent information needed for the exercise of this right. This right shall specifically include decisions concerning the acceptance or rejection of collective bargaining contracts, memoranda of understanding, or any other agreements affecting their wages, hours, or other terms and conditions of employment. All members shall have an equal right to vote and each vote cast shall be of equal weight.

Due process

8. Charges against a member or officer shall be specific and shall be only on grounds provided in the International Constitution. Accused members or officers shall have the right to a fair trial with strict adherence to due process. The accused shall be considered innocent until proven guilty.




    The American Federation of Labor-Congress of Industrial Organizations is the voluntary federation of America's unions, made up of 64 unions and 13 million working men and women nationwide.

AFSCME Advantage

    AFSCME Advantage is a program that provides special money-saving benefits for AFSCME members and their families, including credit cards, mortgages, scholarships and other services.

Authorization Card

    This card includes a statement signed by an employee authorizing a union to act as his or her agent in collective bargaining. Authorization cards are normally used to request a secret-ballot vote by which AFSCME is officially certified as the sole bargaining representative for a unit of employees. For workers in the public sector, such elections are conducted by a public labor relations board. For those in the private sector, elections are conducted by the National Labor Relations Board.

Bargaining Unit

    A group of employees in a given workplace who have a sufficient similarity of interest to constitute a unit for the purpose of bargaining collectively with their employer. A bargaining unit is usually defined by the National Labor Relations Board or similar federal, state or local agency.

Binding Arbitration of Grievances

    This form of resolving disputes involves allowing a neutral party, or arbitrator, to settle grievances between the employee or employees and the employer. Final and binding arbitration requires both parties to honor the decision.

Card Check

    A process in which an employer agrees to recognize the union based upon cards signed by a majority of employees, thereby gaining recognition without an election. A third party, such as a member of the clergy or an arbitrator, examines the cards to verify majority support. Once an employer agrees to card check — and a review of the cards indicates that there is majority support — the employer is required by law to bargain with the union.


    Official recognition by a labor relations board that an employee organization is the exclusive representative for all the employees in an appropriate bargaining unit for the purpose of collective bargaining.

Collective Bargaining

    Collective bargaining refers to a specific legal right of employees to join together and negotiate with an employer over pay, benefits, and other terms and conditions of employment.


    A contract is a written agreement between the union and an employer describing wages, hours and working conditions that must be followed by both parties.


    A grievance is a procedure to remedy a work-related problem such as the abuse of employee rights or a violation of the contract. Other examples might be a denial of a promotion, an improper transfer or dismissal without cause.

Labor Board

    A public agency that oversees collective bargaining, holds union representation elections and polices unfair tabor practices. In addition to the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB), which governs private-sector employers and workers, 29 states have public employment boards which oversee state and local governments and schools districts.

Member Action Teams

    Member Action Teams are organized groups of members who communicate and mobilize workers into action on issues we care about.


    Public Employees Organized to Promote Legislative Equality is AFSCME's political, legislative and fundraising arm.

Representation Election

    A vote conducted by an appropriate labor board or agency to determine whether a majority of the workers in a previously established bargaining unit want to be represented by a given union.


    Stewards represent AFSCME in your workplace and help you solve workplace problems. Stewards may also be part of Member Action Teams.

Unfair Labor Practice

    An Unfair Labor Practice is an act by an employer or union practice forbidden by the National Labor Relations Act, the Civil Service Reform Act (for federal workers) or state and local laws. It often involves the employer's efforts to avoid bargaining a contract in good faith. Some state laws may use the term "prohibited practice."