“Our city has hosted the PSRP Conference and now the Nurses and Health Professionals and Public Employees Professional Issues Conference… because Baltimore is a strong union town and Maryland is a strong state for public employees,” said AFT-Maryland President Kenya Campbell as she kicked off the AFT Nurses and Health Professionals and AFT Public Employees Professional Issues Conference in Baltimore, Maryland. During her remarks, she pointed to a number of AFT- Maryland legislative wins and demonstrated the collective strength of the state federation in improving working conditions, wages, and benefits for Maryland public employees.
She was joined onstage by City Union of Baltimore (CUB, Local 800) President Antoinette Ryan-Johnson, who reminded the audience to return to their locals and run their race for as long as they can, noting that when they get tired, the state federation and national office are there to support local unions. Ryan-Johnson mentioned CUB’s summer 2022 health and safety campaign that was a joint undertaking including CUB, AFT-Maryland, and the AFT national office. Ryan-Johnson motivated and encouraged the crowd with the accomplishments of CUB and the work they are doing for Baltimore City employees.
In addition to President Campbell and CUB President Antoinette Ryan-Johnson welcoming attendees to Baltimore on behalf of AFT-Maryland, was Maryland Professional Employees Council (MPEC, Local 6197) President Jerry Smith. Smith gave the audience a hearty laugh when he told a joke about three people sitting at a table with 12 cookies. The three people were a billionaire, a union member, and a poor taxpayer. The billionaire takes 11 cookies then turns to the taxpayer and says, “the union member is trying to take your cookie!” The audience got a good chuckle from the joke, but everyone in attendance understood the serious and unfair perception of public employee unions from the public.
The state federation was well represented at the conference beyond leadership. Members from CUB, MPEC, AFT Healthcare-Maryland, Baltimore County Federation of Public Employees (BCFPE), Maryland Classified Employees Association (MCEA), and the Baltimore County Federation of Public Health Nurses (BCFPHN) were all in attendance at the conference that offered workshops, panels, and breakout sessions for professional public health workers and public employees. There were several strands that workshops for public employees focused on including: Recruitment and Retention, Artificial Intelligence and the Future of Work, and Core Union Skills.
AFT-Maryland members and leaders played an active role throughout the conference including leading and facilitating workshops. CUB President Antoinette Ryan-Johnson was joined by AFT’s Audra Lucas for a workshop called Workplace Safety: Unsafe Work Sites in Baltimore. MPEC President Jerry Smith served as a moderator for a workshop on artificial intelligence entitled Is Artificial Intelligence Going to Take My Job? What's Going on with AI, and Why Should Public Employees Care?
Members were engaged throughout the conference. One takeaway consistent for AFT-Maryland attendees was a recognition of how their experiences as public employees are shared by AFT members across the country. Beverly Grace, a member of BCFPHN, shared how valuable attending events like these can be saying “it’s good for us, when we have the opportunity to go to conferences, to go because I find that people all over the country are going through the same things that we’re going through, except they work in a hospital, we work for the health department. But they’re dealing with the same issues we’re going through.”
MPEC member Tiara Moore attended her first Professional Issues Conference. She also found that public employees across the country were facing similar challenges as Maryland public employees and there was solidarity to be found in shared challenges. “Something that I learned that I was surprised to find out is that the problems that I’m experiencing within my organization are across the board. The issues from staffing, competency, issues with management, budgets, they’re not limited to me and my agency,” said Moore.
Given so many shared problems across the country, the conference served as an opportunity to collaborate and share best practices with fellow public employees and health professionals. The diversity of topics, and strands of workshops along with the plenary sessions empowered attendees to return to their locals with new strategies to combat ongoing threats to public employees.