by Claudia Brunson
The AFL-CIO internship, American Federation of Labor Congress of Industrial Organizations, focused its attention this summer in the South. Naming its campaign “Summer in the South,” many bright and young individuals from across the nation were selected from a pool of competitive candidates and worked in cities in the south including Houston, Jackson, Tuscaloosa and Atlanta.
All teams are required with covering different tasks and getting different jobs and results done as it relates to their city. Members of the Jackson, MS team, including myself, worked with the MASE- CWA alliance that stands for Mississippi Alliance State of Employees / Communications Workers of America. We were responsible for organizing labor and union movements in the city of Jackson. The team was also heavily involved with many of the political and social issues that are prevalent in the city of Jackson. The Jackson was successful in their efforts to get the city of Jackson and State employees to join the union. As to date, the team has managed to receive over 50 plus members of Jackson city employees and state employees to the state union.
The Jackson Team faced one of the largest initiatives of AFL-CIO: the relentless effort to end Furlough Day, which affects many of the city of Jackson employees. Furlough Day occurs every last Friday of the month in which workers are required to take the day off without pay. This causes serious problems to those employees who need this day to work and make money to provide for themselves and families. The team hosted a rally on this Friday of every month to bring attention to the issue in hopes that the mayor and city council would reverse this decision and end Furlough Day so that the city of Jackson employees will have this day of work back. Because this was a summer internship hosting rallies in front of City Hall in the blistering summer heat was not the most ideal, however, I felt that the work that I was doing was for something greater than me and was truly making a difference in the city of Jackson. We were outside in the heat for hours trying to make a difference and stand up for those workers that are often silenced. We became a helping hand and advocates for these workers everyday that we worked and every rally that we organized.
A second issue that the team worked and found great success with was getting signatures from individuals all over the state in order to end the Siemens Contract. To understand what this petition is and why it is so important is to comprehend that the City of Jackson has contracted a private company to install water meters throughout the City of Jackson the City Council and the Mayor have contracted Siemens and pays them more than $90 million. Both the City of Jackson and the mayor claims that there is a $15 million deficit, however, the city was able to find the money in the budget to pay this private company. A second issue with this negotiation is that many of the water meters that the company installed are faulty and are causing water leaks and high water bills for its residents and business across the City of Jackson. The Jackson Team presented these signatures to the City Council and the Mayor in a City Council meeting in July of this past summer. Because of the team’s effort in getting the required number of signatures as is required by city law, the Siemens Contract has recently been revisited in City Council Meetings and could soon find be nullified.
My experiences this past summer with the AFL-CIO was educational, tiring and rewarding. I learned many of the issues that face the City of Jackson and because of this eye-opening experience it has led me to become an activist in the city that I was born and raised in. Growing up in Jackson I have always heard of the many issues that city battles and the many complaints that are directed to this city. I have always felt that I was outside of these issues because maybe I was too young to understand or too sheltered at home and at school to really feel and see the issues with Jackson. Too often people are disappointed in the way social and political matters are handled in Jackson, and I was too. This internship has given me a direct key and access to what is really happening in Jackson. It placed me into the whirlwind of issues that I can now finally understand. I want to be a voice for the people; I want to be able to make some kind of change to the City of Jackson whether it is small or large.
The City of Jackson and those that live, work and play in the great city deserve better and deserve better now. I am forever grateful and indebted to the AFL- CIO and those persons who gave me this wonderful opportunity to intern. Because of this experience, it gave me a clearer picture on what I want to do with my life going forward and it is to help those people who are in the most need of help.