Nationally, the history of AFSCME began in 1932, as the country suffered through The Great Depression, when a small group of white-collar professional state employees met in Madison, Wis., and formed what would later become the Wisconsin State Employees Union. The reason for the group’s creation was simple: to promote, defend and enhance the civil service system. They also were determined to help spread the civil service system across the country.
In 1936, the American Federation of Labor (AFL) granted a charter for the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME). Growth did not come easily at first. The union’s primary tactic was lobbying to pass or strengthen civil service laws. At the end of 1936, AFSCME had 10,000 members. Ten years later membership was up to 73,000. In the 1950s, the viewpoint and composition of AFSCME began to change. Many of the union’s new members were blue-collar workers and came from big cities that had strong trade union roots and traditions. The 1955 merger with the Congress of Industrial Organizations (CIO) brought in 40,000 members and a strong commitment to collective bargaining as the means to improve working conditions.
In Oregon, AFSCME’s history dates back to the early 1940s. The first Oregon AFSCME local union was Local 191, chartered on Nov. 24, 1942, representing the “Oregon State Juvenile Parole Officers.” Local 191 exists today as the local union for parole and probation officers of the Oregon Youth Authority (OYA). Local 88, which represents Multnomah County workers, was chartered on Dec. 29, 1943. The 1950s brought Local 350 (Clackamas County) in 1951; Local 173 (Polk County) in 1955; Local 697 (Columbia County) in 1956 and Local 189 (City of Portland) in 1959.
There was only one addition to the Oregon AFSCME family in the 1960s: Local 1724 (City of Eugene) in 1963. But the 1970s brought about a tremendous period of growth, particularly after the 1973 Oregon Legislature passed the Public Employee Collective Bargaining Act (PECBA).
The statewide organization, Oregon AFSCME Council 75, was chartered by the national union on June 1, 1967. It took 13 years for all AFSCME local unions to voluntarily affiliate with the umbrella organization, Local 88 being the last holdout to come on board in 1980.
Per the Oregon AFSCME Constitution, the Salem office is officially the organization’s “headquarters” office, although the Portland field office houses considerably more staff. Council 75 maintains other field offices in Astoria, Bend, Eugene, Grants Pass, Ontario and Pendleton.