by Pablo Ros | January 20, 2016
Everybody knows how many hours are in a day, but not necessarily in a week or a month. AFSCME Council 5, on the other hand, knows how many hours there are between now and the end of June.
That’s because the approach of our Minnesota sisters and brothers to strengthening their union has been systematic and precise. Beginning this year, Council 5 began implementing its Maintenance of Membership (MoM) program, a tool through which public workers are re-committing to their union for an entire year, no matter what changes loom on the horizon. It’s like signing a new membership card, but instead of being able to withdraw at any time, the MoM program allows workers to sign a membership contract with their union for the entire year. This benefits them by making their union stronger, by creating a more sustainable membership.
Council 5 represents more than 38,000 workers throughout Minnesota, of which 73 percent are full members (the rest are fee payers). The council’s goal is to move towards 94 percent membership by the end of June, and for every member to be part of the MoM program. Logistically, this means having 36,000 conversations with fellow co-workers (members and agency fee payers). And that’s where the math comes in: If you know how many hours there are between now and the end of June, and you divide that number by the number of staff and Volunteer Member Organizers (VMOs) trained to have these conversations, then it turns out that this highly ambitious goal is perfectly attainable if every staff person and VMO can complete an average of eight conversations a day.
The council also learned, through focus groups, the importance of building relationships with workers before asking them to get active in their union. One fee payer said: “AFSCME feels like a club I don’t belong to…. They tell me to wear green on Wednesdays. Why? They say we’re strong together, but they don’t know my name. They’ve never taken the time to know me – or care about me as a person.”
AFSCME’s “Never Quit” campaign is a big part of the MoM program. Its message is that just as public workers never stop serving their communities, their union will never quit.
Christina St. Germaine, a VMO for the MoM campaign who is also vice president of AFSCME Local 1092 in Moose Lake, Minn., says given the potentially disastrous consequences of Friedrichs, the work of the MoM program is “hugely important.”
“It’s important that we’re talking to our co-workers and letting them know what’s at stake,” she says. “We don’t want what happened in Wisconsin to happen here in Minnesota. Our goal is 94 percent membership and I’m pretty confident we can achieve that.”
On Jan. 11, the day oral arguments were heard in Friedrichs, St. Germaine began preparing for the MoM program. It was a four-day training that allowed her to practice having productive conversations with other public workers in the state who are AFSCME members or agency fee payers.
“It was really fun to be able to go out and talk to people,” she says. “It’s interesting to hear some of their stories, to listen to what they have to say, and to let them know about what might be ahead for us, what the extremists will try to do and are already doing, but also what we can do about it and fight back.”
Eric Halvorson, a VMO for the MoM campaign and member of AFSCME Local 789, has been active with his union since he started working for the state’s Department of Transportation in 1988. The MoM campaign has given him a chance to talk to state employees outside of his department.
“I’m getting to know a lot of the folks in other areas of the state, and I’m learning about their struggles and the issues they deal with,” he says. “It’s been a unique experience for me, an eye-opening experience.”
Although workplace issues vary from department to department, Halvorson says, the common denominator among AFSCME members is “the resolve for our union and for the AFSCME Strong program. I think we all seem to be on the same page.”
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