"Hey, how are you? You wanna
bag for your stuff? How about a pencil that changes color?"
Longtime Oregon AFSCME and
Local 2067 (City of Salem) member and activist Richard Swyers repeats these
three questions countless times during a 12-hour, 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. shift at
the Oregon AFL-CIO's booth at the state fair. For many years, AFSCME members
have staffed the AFL-CIO booth for two days of the Oregon State Fair run, and
2014 was no exception. Council 75 personnel and Corrections members, who offer
free child fingerprinting, staff the booth one day, followed by the Swyers-led
Local 2067 entourage the second day. Most of the faces change in the booth
every couple of hours, but the affable Swyers arrives 90 minutes early to set
up and will be there to close it down after dark.
Swyers takes a vacation day
to do this, and it's gone on for years. Why?
"I just think it's really
important to let our presence be known, both as the City of Salem's union here
in the fair's hometown, and unions in general," says Swyers. "It's a great
opportunity for local people to see us out of our official capacity with the
city, and to talk to them, and to let them know that unions are alive, active
"I also think it's important
to talk to kids and young people," Swyers continues. "They need to know that
despite what they may hear, unions aren't dead."
Swyers fills a bag full of
AFSCME-logoed, union-made trinkets for a passer-by. A "mood pencil" that
changes color with heat. Ditto an eraser. A drinking straw that changes color
when cold liquid gets sucked through it. An American flag keychain with an
AFSCME logo on the reverse side. Local 2067-branded plastic tumblers and
balloons. A few fly swatters left over from a previous year's trinket stash.
Plus a brochure outlining AFSCME's presence in Oregon.
"I want them to know about
us," said Swyers. "We're fighting for a better workplace life — not just
for ourselves in Local 2067 or in AFSCME, but really, for everybody. We are America's middle class."
The recently retired Jack
Tucker, who served as Local 2067's president for 10 years, is another fixture
at the fair. Tucker notes there's a lot of discussion between veterans and
those at the booth.
"There are always a lot of
veterans here at the fair, and they're typically pretty easy to spot, because
most of them are wearing baseball caps telling you when and where they served,"
says Tucker. (There is, in fact, a booth selling such hats to veterans near the
AFL-CIO booth.) "Many of them stop and talk to us, and the vast majority of
them appreciate unions and what we stand for, and how we're fighting the good
fight for workers here in our country. They understand that."
Meanwhile, an elderly woman
strolls by the booth, toting a paper sack full of fair goodies.
"Hey, ma'am, how about a
nice big bag for your stuff there?" Swyers calls out.
And so it goes.