By Kelly Hartog
On June 27, 2023, Shavan Brown celebrated 29 years working as a 911 dispatcher with the city of Los Angeles and 29 years with the AFSCME 3090 union. Joining the union all those years ago was an easy decision for Brown. “It’s just in my genes, my blood,” she said. “I have a family history of being in unions.”
Brown was also deeply affected by the struggles her parents and grandparents went through, which is why, Brown said, “I knew I had to exercise my voice to get what’s right for workers. We are considered minions, the little people.” But, she notes, it’s the workers that keep everything going, “and oftentimes we are forgotten.”
Oddly enough, when Brown graduated college, she first went to work in the private sector, in finance. “I was told to go the private route because they pay more.” But after being laid off – twice – as a last in first out hire, Brown said, “I can’t take this anymore, and a family friend suggested I apply for a city or government job.” After passing interviews and tests, Brown landed at the city, and has been here ever since.
She credits her parents’ too. “They had the longevity of working in one place. They have pensions and they’re sitting nicely because of those years. They set up everything for me to follow that path and I’m grateful for that.”
Joining the union and becoming a trustee, Brown says, “I figured I could be that voice for the people that are afraid to speak up.” For her, organized labor is about getting your voice out there and knowing what the problems are. She quotes a saying: ‘A closed mouth doesn’t get fed.’ “If you don’t tell people your experiences or what you’re going through, we’ll never know,” she explains. “Organizing and having that unity and those numbers, helps us accomplish what we need to do.”
Among those things that Brown, together with the board is hoping to get done, is to create transparency for members. “Our union went through trying times for a few years,” she says. “We lost members. That’s why my key thing is transparency – letting the members know what’s going on. And I see the executive board moving into a positive light of helping the members.”
For Brown, being a trustee is not just about making sure that the union is doing what’s right with its finances, but also giving back to the members. “They are paying their dues, many have been for years, we need to be doing more for them,” she says. “We are here to help you, be an advocate for you, for your employer and all your needs.”
Those needs, she explains, include things beyond the work environment, “because it’s not always just about what they’re going through with their jobs. Sometimes there are personal things in their households that they have no control of. I see myself as a trustee of helping those members out in a time of need.”
Brown may be an advocate for others, but she doesn’t consider herself a role model, even though plenty of people have called her one and she’s the first person in her family to graduate with a college degree.
“I’m just little old me,” she quips. “I just try to do the best I can. I treat people the way I want to be treated and if I’m tasked with helping someone out, I give 110 percent. That’s just how I was raised and taught.”