History of Local 888

A Short History of Local 888 and A.F.S.C.M.E.

Local 888 was chartered by AFSCME International on April 1st, 1967 and has had six presidents in 43 years. The first president was Jame Benecasa, second president was Anthony Pape, third president was Mattie Guillus, fourth president was John Lemogelli, fifth president Terry Woodrow, and the sixthed president is Mike Holland. Local 888 represents 1,300 workers at Rutgers University.Our union represents workers from every RU facility in the state, including the three campuses (New Brunswick, Camden, Newark), twenty-five dining facilities, five medical centers, and all other facilities that employ RU workers.

AFSCME is a big union

Local 888 is part of a much larger union, called "A.F.S.C.M.E.," with nearly a million and a half members across the United States, and is one of the largest unions in the U.S.  The letters in "A.F.S.C.M.E." stands for the American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees.

How it started

The first AFSCME union was founded in 1932 in the state of Wisconsin by workers who decided to stand-up for their rights on the job.   Before they created the union, public workers had no real rights, had no benefits, and could be fired at any time for any reason.  During those depression years, millions of Americans were unemployed, and there was no unemployment insurance, no Social Security system, no health insurance, no retirement pensions, and no laws allowing workers to form a union.

Workers decided to organize

Those problems didn't stop workers in Wisconsin; they had already elected many Governors, Mayors, and City Council members who pledged to defend working people and family farmers against greedy corporations.  Workers even formed their own political parties to hold politicians accountable, and make sure the concerns of working families were always a top priority.  Workers in other states also decided to form unions, and even organized councils of unemployed workers to help workers fight that had lost their jobs.

Bosses fought back

These efforts were bitterly opposed by wealthy investors and factory owners who attacked union organizers as "radicals" and "reds," Communists and Socialists.  But workers kept organizing in small meetings, then larger meetings, and eventually held strikes, marches, rallies, and sit-ins to demand the right to form unions, feed the poor, help the unemployed, and care for the elderly.

Unity and action made progress possible

The organizing effort by workers made it possible for Franklin Roosevelt to be elected and support new laws that required companies to recognize unions in the private sector and negotiate contracts.  Workers also pushed for reforms that created the Social Security system, unemployment insurance, and other benefits.

The Civil Rights Movement had a big impact

For the next twenty years, the AFSCME union grew slowly but steadily.  In the late 50's, public employees in New York decided to strike and demand the right to have a union.  By the 1960's, public employees organized in growing numbers, influenced by the Civil Rights movement. As more public workers wanted to join AFSCME, many workers were also demanding an end to segregation and racism that was used to justify low wages, dangerous working conditions, and disrespectful treatment.  In 1968, garbage workers in Memphis, Tennessee demanded the right to form a union after two of their co-workers were crushed to death on the job.  Dr. Martin Luther King came to Memphis to support their strike.  He met with workers in the evening, but was assassinated the next morning as he prepared to support their march and rally. 

Challenges and hard choices ahead

Today, AFSCME has grown to include nearly a million and a half members, but these impressive numbers don't tell the whole story.  In most unions, many workers simply pay their dues without taking an active role in their local.  Without members who are educated, involved, and prepared to take action, the gains of many decades will quickly disappear.  Political leaders backed by business interests are already attacking unions, passing laws that give business more perks and power, while lowering the standard of living for all working people.  To reverse this trend, unions also need to change, so that members feel welcome, appreciated, and in control of their union.  All forms of union corruption, including big salaries and perks for union officials, fancy cars and offices, cannot be tolerated in unions today, and they are not tolerated in Local 888.  Our elected Executive Board is composed of RU workers like you who are accountable for every penny of hard-earned membership dues money and dedicated to building a union that is democratic and responsive to every member.

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