Throughout Pride Month, the AFL-CIO will be taking a look at some of the pioneers whose work sits at the intersection of the labor movement and the movement for LGBTQ equality. Our next profile is Josette Jaramillo.
Josette Jaramillo grew up in Pueblo, Colorado, the granddaughter of Henry Jaramillo, a longtime member of United Steelworkers Local 2102. When she began working in the Pueblo County Department of Social Services in 2005, she became a member of AFSCME Local 1335. Before long, she was working on the elections committee and became an executive board member and then president of the local, where she has served since.
Jaramillo was elected vice president of AFSCME Council 76, Colorado, in 2011, before being elected president in 2015 and again in 2017. She was elected executive vice president of the Colorado AFL-CIO in 2013 and later elected president, where she still serves. She also serves as recording secretary for the Southern Colorado Labor Council and political chair for the lower 16 counties of the state.
Using vacation time to participate in union activities, Jaramillo maintains her full work schedule as a senior caseworker in social services and child protection. She also runs a group home for boys. As a caseworker, Jaramillo, along with co-worker Lori Rafferty (another member of AFSCME Local 76), showed the type of dedication to community that improved the life of one young child immensely.
The tireless work and innovative research that Jaramillo and Rafferty pursued in the case of a 9-year-old girl helped find a safe home for the child and connect her with family. After discovering that her biological parents had a history of neglect and abuse, Jaramillo and Rafferty not only worked with the Department of Human Services to terminate the abusers’ parental rights, they helped track down five siblings whom the child had never been told about. The adoptive parents of two of those siblings expressed a desire to adopt the 9-year-old as well.
The state recognized Jaramillo and Rafferty with Excellence in Practice awards for their efforts. But there was a bigger reward for Jaramillo: “We were able to establish a sibling relationship with a child who didn’t think she had siblings. I felt awesome. I drove her down to Lubbock, Texas, so she could meet them. She now realizes she’s not alone in the world.”
Jaramillo is a certified trainer in several subject areas, including Common Sense Economics (AFL-CIO), Stewards in Action (AFSCME) and From Playground to Prom (Colorado Youth Matter). She also volunteers for various organizations, including Southern Colorado Equality Alliance, Pueblo Latino Chamber of Commerce, Steel City Supporters and various other nonprofits in Pueblo.
On the power of collective action, Jaramillo said:
Years ago, I worked with a fellow organizer (now elected to the Colorado State Legislature), Daneya Esgar, to work towards winning same-sex/domestic partner benefits through the City of Pueblo. We went to the City Council, and they tabled the issue “indefinitely.”
We organized our members and people in the community to demand that City Council take action, and together, we won. It was a pretty big deal at the time, well before civil unions or legalized gay marriage.
On the power of unions, she said:
Belonging to a union has given me a sense of community. It has made me feel part of something that’s difficult to put into words. I belong somewhere, and I know that the hurdles and success stories in my life are shared collectively. I also get to take on issues and fight for things that matter. I get to fight the fights that are not my own. A few years back, state legislation was passed for women who breastfeed. I got to be an integral part of my workplace implementation to help secure a safe and sanitary place for my co-workers who were new moms to pump in private, in a non-bathroom setting. That legislation mattered to those women in my workplace. Being part of a union allowed those women to have an advocate for them.