Fund aims to support hardest-hit strikers

Jessica Weaver

Striking members of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Local 3800 can apply for financial assistance from the union’s mutual support fund, receive financial counseling and use other community resources during the strike.

While no applicants have received funds yet, those with housing and child-care needs will be given first priority, committee member Kelly Ryan said.

“Our goal is to make sure people stay healthy, housed and warm,” committee member Ken Tivey said.

Susan Wrayge, a striking AFSCME Local 3800 member, said she applied to receive mutual support fund money and feels the fund is beneficial. Still, she said, it was difficult to ask for help.

“Now I know how people asking for welfare feel,” Wrayge said. “I’ve paid my way my whole life.”

Wrayge said she has worked since age 11, and this will be the first time she will not receive a paycheck.

The 15-member committee met Wednesday to decide which of the 20 to 25 striking workers who applied for funds will receive assistance. The committee will begin dispersing funds to between 10 and 15 workers next week.

The mutual support fund is designed to give members financial assistance and support during the strike while allowing employees to maintain their independence, Tivey said.

He added that applicants do not necessarily have to be on the picket line. Some members began another job after the strike and others are staying at home with their children to avoid paying child-care costs, which Tivey said are valid reasons for not being on the picket line.

Committee members are also available to give striking workers financial counseling and put them in touch with community programs.

AFSCME Local 3800 receives the money for the mutual support fund from donations. Community members, University faculty, staff, students and clerical workers themselves have donated to the fund.

The fund, which was between $7,000 and $9,000 before last week’s donations, was boosted by AFSCME International’s donation of $50,000 dollars two weeks ago, Ryan said.

However, a different committee – AFSCME Council 6 – is administering the funds from that donation. Those funds will be dispersed to AFSCME Local 3800 members in greatest need so money for those cases will not come out of the AFSCME Local 3800 mutual support fund.

The union also has a food shelf. Several businesses and community members have already made donations and are facilitating donations from others.

North Country Co-op on Riverside Avenue made two food deliveries of six bags to strike headquarters last week, employee Angela Davis said.

The co-op’s customers can also donate food or money to the strike fund at North Country Co-op.

The University Baptist Church is providing limited child care, though some union members have taken their children with them on the picket lines.

While the University said 45 percent of clerical workers participated in the strike last week, AFSCME Local 3800 said 70 percent of full union members participated in the strike.

On Sunday, striking University clerical workers spent the day at strike headquarters calling co-workers and urging them to picket this week.