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Megan Burger Is This Year’s 2016 Gerald W. McEntee Scholarship Recipient

U.S. Capitol tour guide Megan Burger, a member of AFSCME Local 658 (Council 26), wants to be an occupational therapist. As this year’s winner of the Gerald W. McEntee Scholarship, her dream is closer to becoming reality. “I’m honored to get an award as prestigious as this – one that encourages people who have organizing experience to better themselves,” said Burger, who helped lead the drive to organize her union.
By Clyde Weiss ·
Megan Burger Is This Year’s 2016 Gerald W. McEntee Scholarship Recipient
Megan Burger, 2016 Gerald W. McEntee Scholarship recipient. Photo credit: Family photo

Megan Burger wants to be an occupational therapist. It’s a goal the U.S. Capitol tour guide will be able to achieve more easily thanks to AFSCME’s Gerald W. McEntee Scholarship.

Burger is this year’s recipient of the one-time award of $5,000, granted annually to one AFSCME member. The scholarship honors the legacy of Gerald McEntee, AFSCME’s president from 1981 until 2012, during which the union grew from 960,000 members to 1.6 million. It is awarded to the candidate who best exemplifies McEntee’s commitment to growing stronger by joining together, building political power for working families, defending workers’ rights and supporting public services.

“I’m honored to get an award as prestigious as this – one that encourages people who have organizing experience to better themselves,” said Burger

Burger’s involvement with labor began with her parents: Her dad was a member of the Plumbers and Pipefitters, and her mother was a secretary for her Postal Workers local. After becoming a U.S. Capitol tour guide in 2007, labor became part of her own life.

When the guides decided they needed a voice on the job, they turned to AFSCME. In October 2010, after nine months organizing, Burger led 138 Capitol tour guides and visitor assistants to win recognition of their union. The next year, the members of the U.S. Capitol Visitor's Center Employees, AFSCME Local 658 (Council 26), were honored with the “Annual Organizing Award from the Metropolitan Washington Council, AFL-CIO. Soon thereafter, approximately 25 employees of the Visitor Center gift shop voted to become part of Local 658.

“After organizing, I was elected our first president of the local,” Burger wrote in her essay for the scholarship. “At 28, I got the training of a lifetime in experience.”

Burger would quickly be called on to use that experience to stand up for her sister and brother visitor assistants (VAs) who were demanding that management allow those working outside to wear winter coats in cold weather. VAs were getting sick and depleting their sick leave and leave without pay, she wrote. Something had to be done, but management refused.

On Sept. 30, 2010, “less than a week after voting in a union, I testified before our Congressional Oversight Committee,” Burger wrote in her essay. The panel was examining safety at the Capitol complex and Burger raised the coat issue. After her testimony, she said, they got their coats.

Burger’s activism continued. Last year she helped lead a Member Action Team (MAT) to help more of her co-workers join together. “Our workplace is partly under 30 and new to membership benefits,” she wrote. “As a full-time student, part-time employee, I have made time to lead another organizing committee.”

Nearly twice the number of co-workers joined, doubling the size of  Local 658 since the start of 2015, an organizing effort that is part of our “AFSCME Strong” program that has signed up more than 200,000 members nationwide.

For their efforts, Local 658 received another “Annual Organizing Award” from the Washington DC Metro-area AFL-CIO, presented this February.

The 2005 graduate of the University of Central Missouri (where she received a communications degree) never quits working to improve her workplace, herself and the lives of her co-workers through AFSCME. “Unions helped me grow up in a hardworking middle-class family, go to college and make a good first career great,” Burger explained in her essay for Union Plus Education Foundation, which announced the award. “It is from the advocacy and leadership opportunities that I discovered something: I enjoy helping people better themselves.”

“People need unions,” she added. “An important next step, for me, is to keep involved by educating and agitating. Unions will be there to weather any storm.”

With her scholarship, Burger plans to take classes at Northern Virginia Community College this fall to prepare to become an occupational therapist, possibly for a federal or state system. Burger said her experience as a Capitol guide, and her union experience as a steward and president, will help her as a therapist.

“I felt the people in my workplace were empowered, and I felt empowered,” working through their union, she explained. “An occupational therapist is an occupation that empowers people to do activities for a daily living.”

Carl Goldman, executive director of AFSCME Council 26, congratulated Burger, saying, “It has been a pleasure working with Megan. She is a natural organizer. With very minimal training, she knew exactly what to do to help to bring her co-workers into AFSCME. For me, it was like working with an experienced staff organizer. As local president and as a leader in the Member Action Team, she continued to help build power and bring a voice on the job to her colleagues. She is very deserving of this honor.”

Only AFSCME members are eligible to apply for the Gerald W. McEntee Scholarship, a one‐time scholarship that may not be awarded twice to the same member. A candidate must apply first for a Union Plus scholarship (Burger received a $750 Union Plus Scholarship).

Learn how to apply for the Gerald W. McEntee Scholarship here. Learn about other AFSCME scholarship programs here.

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