NAPE/AFSCME member Toni Bonsera, a Program Specialist for the Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS), joined our union on her very first day of state employment. But NAPE wasn’t Toni’s first encounter with union membership.
Toni grew up in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, a state that she admitted was a little more union-friendly than Nebraska. Toni’s father was a Philadelphia police officer and belonged to his union, the Fraternal Order of Police. So, it wasn’t uncommon for Toni to hear about union membership both at home and at school.
“When I was growing up, if unions came up in conversation, it was always a positive discussion,” she said. “I remember even in Catholic school in Northeast Philadelphia, union history was infused into a lot of the things we learned about.”
In 1988, Toni got a job at the United Parcel Service (UPS) in Westchester, PA. Almost all of her coworkers encouraged her to join the union, and Toni was a proud card-carrying Teamster for the two years she worked for UPS.
It’s unsurprising, then, that Toni’s daughters grew up hearing about the power and benefits of union membership, just like Toni herself had.
Toni’s eldest daughter, Kerrin Packard, who is also a Program Specialist for DHHS, joined NAPE/AFSCME in July of 2022 on her first day as a State of Nebraska employee, just like her mother had done 17 years earlier.
“I think I also signed up for steward training not long after I became a member,” Kerrin said. “I mean, there’s nothing that says you can’t be a union steward even though you’re still on original probation.”
Kerrin and Toni took that steward training class together, though it wasn’t Toni’s first time being contract-trained.
When Toni worked for Project Harmony early in her career, a hiring freeze was implemented, despite the number of people who were leaving at the time. Though Toni wasn’t yet an activist in our union, she found herself taking point on communicating with NAPE field staff to try to remedy the situation for herself and her coworkers.
Shortly thereafter, her NAPE/AFSCME representative encouraged Toni to become a certified union steward.
“He actually came to my house and we did steward training right at my dinner table,” she said.
Toni and Kerrin are proud NAPE/AFSCME activists. Union events have become an opportunity for them to spend time together doing what they love: advocating for the people whose voices have been historically and systemically silenced.
“People often just accept their circumstances because they think it’s all that they deserve. But being part of our union, strengthening our community, that gives them the opportunity to make things better,” Kerrin said.
Toni said that attending union meetings and events with her daughter often evokes the same pride that she felt when she watched Kerrin participate in activities when she was younger.
“I grew up singing,” Kerrin said. “And when you’re up there you can always see your parents, you look for them in the crowd. The same look she had when she was sitting in the audience at those performances is what I can see on her face when I get up and speak or do anything at union events. I see a lot of pride in her face.”
“I get very excited because Kerrin and I are a lot alike,” Toni said. “But she’s the 2.0 version. I may be smart and passionate, but she’s smarter and her passion is greater. I think it’s super cool to be the mother-daughter pair at union events.”
Kerrin and Toni lean on one another to propel their union activism. Kerrin appreciates the vast knowledge her mother has gained throughout her years with NAPE and Toni recognizes that the new perspectives that younger generations bring are essential to our union’s continued success.
“My mom always told me to be the change you want to see in the world. So, that’s what I try to do,” Kerrin said.
“All parents want their kids to be smart and successful,” Toni said. “But, above all, I wanted my kids to be good citizens. Being good citizens and good human beings are the things that really matter.”
Toni raised her daughters to appreciate and uphold union values. And though she’s not done advocating for her fellow State of Nebraska employees, she knows that our union will continue to thrive under the leadership of its successors.
“I think that there’s a real benefit to preparing the next generation to step into leadership positions,” Toni said. “That’s not to say us older folks don’t have some fight in us. But it’s really gratifying to know that our union is headed in a positive direction.”