Volunteer Member Organizers Head Out in Tulsa, Okla.

by Jon Melegrito  |  February 02, 2012

AFSCME Local 1180 members
AFSCME Local 1180 members prepare to do house calls as part of their VMO training to reach out to fellow co-workers and have a greater voice on the job. (Photo by Aisha Salleh)

It’s intimidating knocking on someone’s door and asking them to join a union. Even knowing it’s a co-worker may not calm the jitters. But when you begin to explain that there is power in numbers and that coming together as a union gives workers a voice, it gets easier.

That’s what eight members of AFSCME Local 1180 learned one recent weekend in Tulsa, Okla., when they knocked on co-workers’ doors to encourage them to join the union. These Volunteer Member Organizers (VMOs) have never done anything like this before. But the preparations, field training and house calls made believers out of them.

Local 1180 represents approximately half the city’s employees, which means there are about 2,000 who are not yet members.That’s the challenge. The citizens of Tulsa deserve the vital services provided by the city’s water, sanitation and road maintenance workers, airport safety officers, 911 emergency operators and administrative employees. But ongoing threats of privatization and anti-worker legislation could mean not only loss of jobs but a deterioration of these services.

The VMOs participated in a three-day training, learning one-on-one communication skills. Each day, participants partnered with experienced organizers as they headed out to make house calls.

“Yes, it was intimidating at first but once you try it, you become comfortable and can successfully move a non-member into action,” says Michael Rider, Local 1180 president. He is also one of the VMOs. “The value of the VMO program is critical in helping us create a culture of continuous organizing, so that we can make improvements for ourselves, our families and the public we serve.”

Similar VMO training programs are held across the nation with positive results.At the AFSCME Women’s Conference last year, more than 70 members signed up to become champions of their fellow co-workers and middle-class workers everywhere.

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