Union Momentum Catching Public Eye

by Michael Byrne  |  July 07, 2015

Union Momentum Catching Public Eye Thousands of West Virginia workers sing the national anthem when they gathered at the state capitol in Charleston in March for the Mountaineer Workers Rising rally to protest anti-worker attacks.

Newspapers from coast to coast have begun to reflect the momentum we’re witnessing within AFSCME, and demonstrating to the public that unions are back and more relevant than ever.

Citing Washington Post reporter Dana Milbank’s decision to “come home to his union,” AFSCME Oregon Council 75 Exec. Dir. Ken Allen, also an AFSCME International vice president, explained in the Oregonian, why more than 1,600 nonmembers have signed a union membership card with Council 75 unions during the past year:

“People are fed up. They're working hard and not getting ahead,” Allen wrote. “They're watching as their children grow up to enter an economy where the stable, middle-class career seems like a distant memory. And they're starting to connect the dots between union membership and good jobs.”

The union organizing movement is even more dramatic nationwide, as AFSCME has signed up more than 140,000 members during the past year. The union stepped up its organizing efforts in anticipation of a Supreme Court decision in Friedrichs v. California Teachers Association, which could make it more difficult for unions to represent public-sector workers.

The activism of AFSCME members was captured by Washington Post reporter Lydia DePillis in a recent Wonkblog, following an AFSCME Strong training session in Baltimore.

“Public-sector unions haven’t been sitting passively by as the judicial juggernaut approaches,” she wrote. “Rather, they’ve embarked on a broad ‘internal organizing’ effort, reaching workers who may have been paying agency fees for years and never had any contact with a union representative.”

“None have been as aggressive as AFSCME,” she wrote, following the work of shop stewards like Andre Powell who are urging employees on their lunch hour to sign up for full-fledged membership. “It’s a continuous process, but it takes on a new meaning,” Powell says. “We’re holding our breath, biting our fingernails. We have to grow, if these court decisions don’t go our way.”

Success may be measured in the response of nonmembers or inactive members, like parole officer Monica Harris, who was listening to Powell’s pitch at lunch. “I learned that we are the union,” she announced. “I never thought of it like that before.”

That’s a message that many young workers are beginning to understand, as a recent Pew survey and the pro-union vote by Gawker employees indicates. As Allen writes, the power behind collective action becomes more and more appealing to every worker:

“A union quite literally gives us a seat at the table when the decisions about the future of our economy are made. After years of layoffs, low wages and tight budgets, we are more than ready to reclaim that seat.”

Read more about the recent AFSCME Strong training near Baltimore.

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