BY SAM RAPPAPORT
Linda McPherson, a native of Georgetown, Guyana, arrived in Brooklyn as a teenager accustomed to small-town life and warm weather.
“It was a culture shock, especially the changes in the weather,” said McPherson, who, in in the last two decades, has risen through union ranks to become president of District Council 1707 of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, a position that she has held for a year.
McPherson described her hometown in Guyana as a small city that valued community above all else. Those values of interdependence and community, she said, allowed her to see a future for herself in unions.
After landing in Brooklyn, McPherson spent a few years taking odd jobs, working at a bank and running a hair salon out of her home. It was when she enrolled her daughter in a Head Start program that her career started to take form. For two years, McPherson worked as a Parent Volunteer at her daughter’s head start program. She said that eventually people started to take note of her contributions.
“They saw I was able to do the work of a family worker, which is sort of like a social worker—you advocate for parents,” McPherson said.
As a family worker, McPherson was employed by a union attached to Head Start. She began attending meetings and became a member at large of Local 95, a union under the umbrella of District Council 1707.
Eventually, those around her convinced McPherson to run for an official position within the union. She did, and she won, and she kept on climbing. First, she was treasurer of Local 95. Then, she became vice president. From there, she moved up to the larger union establishment and became treasurer of District Council 1707. A year ago, she was inaugurated as the district council president. She now oversees 30,000 union members in New York City, Westchester County, Long Island and New Jersey.
McPherson said that she took the position because she wanted to address some of the antagonisms between union members and union leadership.
“I ran because I wanted to see a change in the administration of the union,” McPherson said. “I wanted to make it into something more friendly to membership. They’re the ones that pay dues. They should be satisfied.”
McPherson directly credits her success as a union leader to her upbringing in Guyana.
“Where I grew up in Guyana, the community base was very strong,” she said. “Because I had that background, I could get involved in community work here. It’s not strange for me to mobilize communities.”
McPherson continues to hold a position as a family coordinator with Head Start, where she acts as an advocate for families enrolled in the program.
One of her priorities as president of District Council 1707 is to provide Head Start child-care workers with sufficient pay and resources.
“We are working with the mayor to get parity for head start workers statewide,” McPherson said of her current agenda. “We need parity with all the Department of Education’s teachers and staff.”