CSEA Acting President Mary E. Sullivan and Johanna Hester.

CSEA Acting
President Mary
E. Sullivan and
Johanna Hester.

SARATOGA SPRINGS — When CSEA women set out to get something done, anything is possible.

At the recent CSEA Statewide Women’s Conference, hundreds of our members were inspired and empowered to meet challenges facing our union.

They also took home knowledge and skills to help us succeed in moving our union forward during tough times.

“Women’s rights and workers’ rights are still under attack, and there is so much work that needs to be done,” CSEA Acting President and Standing Women’s Committee Officer Liaison Mary E. Sullivan said. “Women make our union strong. We need all of our members to be well informed and engaged to stand up and protect what so many union sisters and brothers have fought, and even died, for.”



“CSEA women never quit,” Women’s Committee Chair Karen Pecora said. “We need all of our members involved in strengthening our union, so our conference really focused on the skills our members need to face the challenges before us.”





SUNY Potsdam Local member Heather O’Hara stands strong.

Building our union
The conference’s keynote program, ‘Mission Possible,’ focused on our ongoing efforts to engage members to build and strengthen our unions.

Johanna Hester, special assistant to the executive director, UDW, AFSCME Local 3930 in California that represents home care workers, gave a powerful address about how her union survived in the midst of the U.S. Supreme Court’s Harris v. Quinn decision that struck down closed shops for home care workers.

Local 3930 lost about 20 percent of its members after the 2014 ruling, but Hester said her union was prepared for the challenge and immediately worked to engage members in conversations to keep them connected to the union, which has a membership of predominantly women. The local also reached out to the many immigrant communities that comprise much of the union’s membership.

“As women, we are amazing, powerful and we get the job done,” said Hester, also an AFSCME International Vice President. “We must acknowledge these fights if all workers are to unite. [Our opponents] try to divide and conquer us, but we must remove all barriers.”

Hester said the local also prepared by having their organizational infrastructure in place, including upgrading their technology, updating their databases and having authorization cards ready to go. The local also created an employee organizing program to bring back members.

“You should [also upgrade technology]now,” she urged attendees. “It’s your greatest protection.”
Despite the challenges, Hester said that we can be successful with preparation, hard work and an engaged membership.

“We have to stand up,” she said. “This mission is possible.”

Members engaging members
Many of the conference’s breakout sessions, including sessions on political action, communication, safety and health and organizing, also focused on strengthening our union.

“It is our obligation to leave here and teach our members what’s at stake,” Sullivan said.

Members also received information about why we should vote ‘no’ on a Constitutional Convention this November, along with self-addressed postcards that will be mailed to members’ homes shortly before Election Day.

Other conference highlights included the presentation of the Irene Carr Leadership Award to Erie County Local President Denise Szymura.

— Janice Gavin


About Author

Janice Gavin

Janice Gavin is the editor of The Work Force and CSEA’s special interest publications. A graduate of SUNY Plattsburgh and Syracuse University, Gavin has been a journalist and public relations professional for more than 20 years. She worked as a newspaper reporter and bureau chief at the Plattsburgh Press-Republican, where she was honored with Associated Press and New York Newspaper Publishers Association awards. Gavin joined CSEA as a communications specialist in the union's Southern Region in 2000. In 2004, she became The Work Force's associate editor, a position she held until becoming the publication's editor in 2017. Growing up in a union household, she is dedicated to improving workers’ lives through telling their stories.

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