The American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) is one of the largest unions in the country. Yet its size and political impact needed to expand to achieve success on issues of concern to its members, such as health care. Its Power to Win program calls for all parts of the union to expand organizing, focus on politics, and build the skills and organizations for sustained success. A key feature of the union’s change program is ongoing leadership development for leadership teams from state affiliates.

What we did

After listening to leaders from across the union, we identified the short-term and long-term goals of the program. By comparing those goals to existing practices, we identified areas of focus, options for structuring an ongoing program, and specific curriculum topics. Working as part of a team, we designed and facilitated the sessions, developed supporting material, and provided ongoing consultation to session participants.


Heather Berthoud is designing and delivering an innovative and experimental education program for AFSCME leaders, the Major Affiliate Leadership Academy. The Academy brings together union leadership teams, including current and emerging leaders and staff, for three retreats over the course of a year. In each retreat, leaders reflect on their personal capabilities, the performance of their team, and on their organization’s capacity. Between retreats, there is ongoing exchange, mentoring and field work. Heather has been part of three-member team of instructors that has collaborated to design the program using participatory action research.

This work is of critical importance to our union, which has 1.6 million active and retired members in 47 states across the country. For the past two years, she has led us through a multi-stage and complex process that has resulted in a program that receives rave reviews from our most senior and hard-to-please leadership. Heather’s role on the instructor team is vital. She brings deep knowledge of how organizations function, exceptional design skills, and a sophisticated understanding of group dynamics.

In other words, Heather is a talented educator and a skilled organization development practitioner, which is why she is such a valuable partner in this project.

Heather has taken on other high priority projects for AFSCME, including leading the senior staff and top officer through annual strategic planning. Her facilitation skills and strategic acumen have earned her a high level of credibility within AFSCME. She is impeccable in making and keeping commitments, and she has delivered high quality outcomes in everything she has done for the union.

We continue to learn from Heather – about ourselves, about our organization, and about how to increase the quality of our work. That’s why we keep asking her to do more for us! As we enter the 3rd year of a large-scale organizational change process, it is clear that we could not have made the progress we have made without Heather’s discipline, talent and wisdom.

Elissa McBride
AFSCME Education Director