HERKIMER — CSEA Herkimer County Local President Beth Hall has always stepped up to meet a challenge, especially when she feels people’s rights are being threatened.
“My background consists of always being the underdog, since I was a kid and to the present,” she said. “I guess I’ve always taken the position that you need to fight for what you want and what you believe in, and that’s what I try to do for our members.”
CSEA President Danny Donohue recently presented Hall, who works in Herkimer County’s Probation Department, with our union’s highest honor, the Local Government Mission Achievement Award.
Challenges inspire activism
It’s no wonder, as Hall has been fighting for our members for decades.
More than 20 years ago, she stepped up her activism when another union challenged CSEA.
“Back in 1993, we had a competing union come in and try to take CSEA from Herkimer County,” she said. “I felt really compelled to keep CSEA with Herkimer County because I believed in what we could do for our members.”
CSEA prevailed in that challenge and Hall hasn’t backed down since. She continues to fight to keep our union strong, and credits our current member engagement efforts with strengthening her membership and reinvigorating her own activism.
“CSEA’s member engagement program has been in line with how I believe unions should operate,” Hall said. “I think union leaders should be in constant contact with our members, and our members really need to be involved with their union. We’ve taken a grassroots approach to how we approach this whole program. We wanted to do it ourselves and we’ve gotten members involved by showing them the value of CSEA.”
That grassroots approach has taken several forms. Hall, along with other Herkimer County Local leaders and activists, started a regular union newsletter, began holding more regular meetings and “lunch and learns” throughout the local and its units and conducted their own member engagement efforts to reach out to the majority of their members.
Strengthening our union in face of change
Hall said she worries about the coming threat that voluntary unionism poses to our members.
“I’m afraid that things we have fought for and won over the years are in jeopardy,” she said. “Unfortunately, many of our members take for granted the things they have — the 40-hour workweek, the holiday pay, vacation time, their insurance benefits — and with the current Supreme Court case (Janus v. AFSCME Council 31), I think it’s even more important for us to strengthen our union, communicate with our members and educate them about what’s at risk.”
That’s exactly what she and local activists have done. Hall said she feels good about their successes.
“I’m pretty proud of our local and unit officers for stepping up and doing what it takes to build that communication with their members,” she said. “It’s been a pretty terrific experience for the local.”
Hall humbly shrugs off any praise that goes with being chosen for the union’s Mission Achievement Award.
“I feel very honored,” she said. “It means a lot to me, but this is not anything I’ve done alone. This has been a team effort from the very beginning.”
Hall said her real reward comes from the satisfaction of helping others.
“What I try to accomplish is making a difference in our members’ lives, as best I can,” she said. “It might be as simple as making sure they get the representation in the workplace that they’re looking for or providing them information about the different benefits CSEA has to offer. Anything we can do to help our membership, I’m there and I’m willing to do for them.”
— Mark M. Kotzin