The employees union at the University of Maryland held a staff association fair Tuesday to welcome new members who have joined AFSCME during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“We thought that it would be a really good idea to actually have an in-person event, get to meet our newest members,” said Todd Holden, the president of the Local 1072 chapter of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees. “But, also talk to people who have not yet [learned] about the benefits of union membership and the things that we have been able to do.”

He said membership in AFSCME increased about 40 percent since the pandemic began in March 2020, which he attributes to workers at this university believing in the values of the labor union, such as expanding collective bargaining rights in Maryland.

The union’s current priorities are continuing to push for workers to earn a living wage, which is $22.65 in Prince George’s County, ensuring working conditions are better, and employees have access to telework, according to Denise Gilmore, the legislative director of Maryland’s AFSCME chapter.

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Dawn Jackson, the former president of AFSCME 1072, said the organization plans to negotiate new contracts in the new Maryland General Assembly legislative session next year and focus on how Wes Moore’s agenda as governor-elect will affect university employees.

“Whenever they talk about the budget we like to go up to Annapolis and hear what’s in the budget, make sure that staff salaries are included when the university is given their budget,” Jackson, an animal operations manager for the laboratory animal resources department at this university, said. “Because the university works well because we work well.”

She said AFSCME’s event was successful because of the large amount of engagement the organization got from new members and those who attended to learn more about the union.

Jackson has worked at the university for more than 40 years and has been a part of AFSCME for most of that time. She said a lot has changed in the organization since she first joined.

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“We’ve grown, we’ve tackled different areas of campus, because as things are evolving, there’s always different issues,” she said.

It takes a community to make change, so it’s important to have a strong union, Jackson added.

“The union is as strong as the members and the people that are there,” Jackson said. “It is important to everybody to work for the same things.”

Along with information from AFSCME members themselves, other labor rights organizations were also present, including United Students Against Sweatshops and Fearless Student Employees.

Gilmore said an in-person event like this is important to bring university workers together who may not interact regularly.

“The way the university’s set up kind of in different silos, it’s easy to feel isolated sometimes at work,” Gilmore said. “And when you can come together with fellow union members who you know share the same concerns, hopes, wishes that you do, it can really build some camaraderie.”