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Building Worker Strength in Lean Times

by Clyde Weiss  |  February 07, 2012

Members of Miami-Dade County Local 199
Members of Miami-Dade County Local 199 (Florida Council 79) show their solidarity last year in the chambers of the Miami-Dade County Commission. (Photo by Kassidy Johnson)

Dade County, Fla. – Building a union in ordinary times is tough enough. But the remarkable growth of Miami-Dade County Florida Employees Local 199 (AFSCME Council 79) is proof that you can build a union even in the face of adversity. In fact, workers sought to join the union – representing 9,000 workers in Miami-Dade – because of the adversity.

Last summer, the local set a membership goal of 60 percent, from a starting point of 21 percent. It now approaches 32 percent – more than 1,000 new members. One of the volunteer member organizers responsible for that success is Mario Ambrose, 51, a record specialist with the Miami-Dade County Clerk of the Courts, as well as a steward and contract negotiating team member for Local 199.

Ambrose says he was “reared to believe that the union is one of the most important entities in a community,” and was eager to learn about organizing and determined to build the union’s strength.

Meeting with workers at their homes, Ambrose (and other organizers) made their case. “What I emphasized is that it’s a numbers game,” he said. “They don’t take us seriously because we don’t have the numbers. We need members to be able to fight.”

Fighting is exactly what they did. Members crowded the county commission budget hearings last year and reached out to the community to fight for public services. Also, Local 199’s contract was coming up for renegotiation.  

Members ratified a new three-year contract on Jan. 20. Although it contains some give-backs, the union was ultimately able to preserve the bulk of the cost-of-living adjustment received last summer. It also maintains merit and longevity pay.

Still, workers continue to join Local 199. “They understand it’s going to take a union to fight, not a just a work unit,” says Ambrose.

Read about other AFSCME organizing victories here.

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