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Love in the Union: Rick and Rachel

Did you find love in your (labor) union? If so, we’d like to hear your story.
By Pablo Ros ·
Tags: Our Stories
Love in the Union: Rick and Rachel
Rick and Rachel with their son, Aiden.

The first time Rick Bartolotta and Rachel Casey met, he came off as “standoffish,” she recalls. It happened at a meeting of the steering committee of Western New York Next Up, a coalition of new and young union activists in the Buffalo area.

“I tried to talk to him but he sort of blew me off,” she says.

That’s not what Rick remembers. In fact, he says, “I was very impressed. I was actually intimidated by her more than anything.”

Rick, 37, works for the treasury department of the City of Buffalo and is an active member of AFSCME Local 650 (Council 35). Rachel, 32, an employment counselor at the Erie County Department of Social Services, is an active member of the Civil Service Employees Association (CSEA), Local 815.

Their first meeting in the spring of 2012 didn’t immediately lead to anything. But a couple of months later they ran into each other again. Appropriately enough for two young union activists, this time it happened at a picket line outside the Lancaster, New York, town hall where the town supervisor, Dino Fudoli, had insulted public workers by describing them as the “non-producing part of society.”

It was there at that picket line – brought together by their belief in public service and the right of workers to dignity and respect – that Rachel and Rick had their first serious conversation.

“We talked a lot about the town supervisor, Fudoli, how he was just a real jerk for the way he was talking about public-sector workers,” Rick remembers. “And we talked a little bit about our backgrounds, and Western New York Next Up. I had just gotten back from a training in DC, so she was asking me about what I’d learned in DC. I told her about how I’d toured the AFSCME headquarters and how cool it was to see the union in action.”

From then on, every one of their dates seemed to involve some union-related activity. They worked on the Labor Day parade together, putting up signs and helping to organize the parade. During the summer of 2012, they did some political organizing together, including lit drops for a candidate in Western New York.

Love in the union“They weren’t actually dates but we were getting to know each other,” Rachel says.

Their first real date was to a haunted house around Halloween. But as one season led to another, most of the time they were spending together was through union-related events. They did a CSEA Next Wave happy hour, political work through labor walks, and held long phone calls discussing different things going on in the world, things that mattered to them and they hoped to influence or change. They talked about their lives and their personal likes and dislikes. They even did some Scott Walker-bashing.

“It was really, really cool to have someone with that same passion,” Rick recalls. “It grew our relationship. The union stuff is what opened the door. That’s what we had in common.”

By the time of the Next Wave conference in June 2013, they were ready to commit to each other for life.

Today, three years after their first serious conversation, Rick and Rachel are married and have a two-and-a-half month old son, Aiden.

“He’s already worn his AFSCME onesie,” Rachel says. She adds, half-jokingly: “We’re still not sure whom he will be marching with first, maybe daddy…. Not really, we’re still in negotiations.”

On a more serious note, Rick and Rachel worry about the world in which Aiden will grow up.

“We’re being attacked right now not only as middle class but as public workers and union members, too,” Rachel says. “There’s so much bad stuff going on, and you need to be part of the solution, not the problem. Right-to-work could happen here too, so we need to fight like hell for what we already have, especially now that we have a kid. We deserve to have these things. We work hard.”

“We don’t want a world run by the Koch brothers,” Rick adds. “We don’t want that for our son. The only way is to keep fighting. Even before we became parents our perspective was on the right track, but it’s reached a whole new level since he was born.”

Did you find love in your (labor) union? If so, we’d like to hear your story. Contact Pablo Ros at



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