The Washington Federation of State Employees (WFSE) held its 50th Biennial Convention from October 6 to 8, 2023, at the DoubleTree Hotel in Seatac, WA. The convention coincided with the 80th anniversary of the union’s founding in 1943. The theme of the convention was “History Built, Future Bound”.
Delegates Elect Union Officers and Set Priorities
The convention was attended by hundreds of delegates elected by WFSE’s local unions. They represented the diverse sectors and regions of the state’s public service workers. The delegates had the authority to set the union’s policies and priorities for the next two years, as well as elect the union’s leadership.
The WFSE’s four officers (president, vice president, secretary, and treasurer) were re-elected by their union siblings for the 2021-2023 term. They are:
- President Mike Yestramski, Local 793
- Vice President Ashley Fueston, Local 443
- Treasurer Paula Lukaszek, Local 1495
- Secretary Tracy Stanley, Local 1400
The officers were sworn in by Executive Director Kurt Spiegel. They pledged to continue fighting for the rights and interests of WFSE members and all public service workers in Washington.
WFSE Honors Its History and History Makers
The convention also celebrated the rich history and achievements of WFSE over the past eight decades. The delegates watched a video that highlighted some of the milestones and struggles of the union, from its founding in 1943 to its current campaigns and victories.
The video featured interviews with some of the WFSE history makers, who shared their stories and insights with the current members. They included:
- Claude Burfect, who led the fight for collective bargaining rights for state employees in the 1970s
- Carol Dotlich, who was instrumental in organizing WFSE locals in higher education institutions
- Penny Hall, who served as WFSE president from 1989 to 1997 and championed women’s rights and diversity in the union
- Bev Hermanson, who was a key leader in the strike of 1981, the first and only strike in WFSE history
- Peggy Holmes, who was the first complainant in the comparable worth lawsuit that resulted in a landmark settlement for pay equity in 1986
- George Masten, who was a pioneer in organizing WFSE locals in social services and health care agencies
- April Sims, who was the first African American woman to serve as WFSE secretary and is now the president of the Washington State Labor Council
- Gail Spaeth, who was a longtime activist and leader in WFSE locals in corrections and law enforcement
The history makers encouraged the current members to carry on the legacy of WFSE and to take on new challenges in the name of justice and solidarity.
Convention Features Inspiring Speakers and Workshops
The convention also featured several guest speakers who addressed the delegates on various topics related to public service, labor rights, and social justice. They included:
- Elissa McBride, Secretary Treasurer of AFSCME, who praised WFSE for its resilience and strength during the COVID-19 pandemic and urged members to keep organizing and mobilizing for a better future
- Bob Ferguson, Washington Attorney General and candidate for governor, who thanked WFSE for its endorsement and support and vowed to defend public services and workers’ rights from any attacks
- Pramila Jayapal, Congresswoman from Washington’s 7th District, who spoke about her progressive agenda in Congress and her partnership with WFSE on issues such as health care, immigration, and climate change
- Hilary Franz, Public Lands Commissioner and candidate for governor, who shared her vision for protecting Washington’s natural resources and creating green jobs for public service workers
- Jay Inslee, Governor of Washington, who recognized WFSE for its essential role in providing quality public services during the pandemic and promised to continue working with the union on improving working conditions and compensation
The convention also offered five workshops designed to support members in building their union. They covered topics such as:
- New delegate orientation, where members learned about the basics of convention procedures and how to participate in union business
- WFSE history, where members heard from a panel of history makers and learned more about the union’s past achievements and challenges
- PEOPLE program, where members learned about the importance of political action and how to contribute to PEOPLE, WFSE’s political action fund
- Member engagement, where members learned about best practices and strategies for engaging new and existing members in union activities and campaigns
- Member benefits, where members learned about the various benefits and services available to them as union members
Convention Concludes with Awards Ceremony and Casino Night
The convention concluded with an awards ceremony where WFSE recognized some of its outstanding members for their contributions to the union and their communities. The awards included:
- The President’s Award, which went to Carol Dotlich for her lifetime of service and leadership in WFSE
- The Vice President’s Award, which went to the WFSE COVID-19 Response Team for their exceptional work in protecting and supporting members during the pandemic
- The Secretary’s Award, which went to the WFSE Communications Team for their excellent work in informing and engaging members through various media platforms
- The Treasurer’s Award, which went to the WFSE Finance Team for their diligent work in managing and auditing the union’s finances
- The Executive Director’s Award, which went to the WFSE Staff for their dedication and professionalism in serving the members and the union
- The PEOPLE Award, which went to Local 793 for their outstanding participation and contribution to the PEOPLE program
- The Legislative Award, which went to Local 443 for their effective advocacy and lobbying on behalf of WFSE members and public service workers
- The Volunteer Member Organizer Award, which went to a panel of members who shared their experiences and tips on organizing new and existing members in their workplaces
The convention ended with a fun and festive casino night, where members enjoyed games, music, food, and prizes. The casino night was also a fundraiser for the PEOPLE program, as members donated to play and win.
The convention was a success in energizing, inspiring, and uniting WFSE members as they celebrated their history and charted their future. The delegates left the convention with a renewed sense of pride, purpose, and power as public service workers and union activists.