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Showcasing Union Value in Small Town

by Mark McCullough  |  December 07, 2015

Showcasing Union Value in Small Town AFSCME Local 3918 members, from left, Jeff Johnson; chief negotiator LeAndra Cooper; and Michael Henderson, president of the local. (Photo courtesy LeAndra Cooper-Bell)

The city of DeFuniak Springs lies just north of Interstate 10 in a part of the Florida panhandle that is physically closer to Alabama than the Gulf Coast. And for the members of AFSCME Local 3918, the opinions about unions held by the community, city leaders and even many of their coworkers reflect this as well.

But a small town also means a smaller bargaining unit and a bigger opportunity for one-on-one conversations with coworkers. Over time, that can show how AFSCME membership helps to deliver quality public services, a rewarding career and more.

“Myself and my fellow members are fighting every day to do good for the people we serve and the people we work with, and so when we open their eyes to the truth we can start having a real conversation,” said Local 3918 Pres. Mike Henderson, a commercial waste management employee who has been with the city, and with AFSCME, for 11 years.

With membership density at more than a third of the overall unit in the “right-to-work” state, Henderson knew that the bargaining session for a new two-year contract provided an opportunity to show the union difference to members and non-members alike. 

“We have members in every department, so we are in touch with what people want and we tell them how things were going,” he said.

Henderson said members consider this newest contract a stepping-stone as they build strength at work. They secured a pay raise of 3 percent and kept their health care fully paid for by the city, while stopping a string of bad proposals.

“Their team had little interest in negotiating in good faith because they don’t ‘like unions,’ but we are showing them over time how we can be a partner in the success of the city,” Henderson said.

Thanks to the honest and transparent approach that Henderson and others have taken, the local has added new members and is already looking forward to a series of AFSCME Strong and other trainings so they can be in a stronger position for the next bargaining session. Streamlining the disciplinary process so management treats members and nonmembers equally is a main goal for the union.

“If you have a union you have a safety net, and I know I wouldn’t be here today without my union,” said Henderson. “It is another real-life and real-world example that we are able to use to keep having that conversation and keep growing our strength.” 

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