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Remaking Our Union

With a disastrous election behind us and a serious threat from the supreme court ahead, AFSCME is moving forward with a bold plan for action.

By David Card



The Supreme Court unanimously agreed in 1977 that public workers had the right to join together and form a union that would exclusively represent them in collective bargaining negotiations. The court also ruled that union members could vote to collect a “fair share” fee from workers who receive union benefits.

In other words, the Supreme Court said that when employees of a local government democratically vote to form a union, they could also decide that all workers should share the cost of union representation since all workers benefit from the higher union wages and benefits. That case was called Abood v. Detroit Board of Education.

Now, a new case known as Friedrichs v. California Teachers Association is making its way to the Supreme Court. It is a direct threat to the rights established by Abood nearly 40 years ago. In Friedrichs, a group of teachers claim that paying fees to a union they do not wish to belong to is a violation of their First Amendment Constitutional rights.

If the Supreme Court decides to take the case (and experts expect they will) and the justices side with the anti-union forces, it could seriously weaken our efforts to negotiate good wages and benefits for workers. That’s why AFSCME’s internal organizing efforts are so important — to blunt any adverse impact of a decision overturning Abood.

AFSCME is turning the unrelenting attacks on collective bargaining and the public services we provide into an opportunity to remake our union. We’re fighting back not in a defensive crouch but in an aggressive proactive stance, taking advantage of our key strength — the 1.6 million members of AFSCME.

AFSCME Takes Action

As directed by the leaders of AFSCME’s affiliates across the country, our union will confront these unprecedented challenges with a bold course of action, steered and implemented by you.

It begins with organizing. Building on the huge success of the 50,000 Stronger campaign, in which 132,000 women and men became full-fledged members in 2014, we are making a nationwide push to connect with everyone our union represents, and to add to our power by signing up new members.

At the heart of this are conversations between you and potential members. No one can better explain the value of being active in the union than you can, because you live out the struggles as public service workers every day.

In the months ahead, Volunteer Member Organizers will talk one-on-one with their sisters and brothers across the country, working to make local AFSCME members the messengers to each other and the public. That’s how you can play a big role in our revitalized union, by becoming a VMO. You can educate others about the very real threats to our future, the power we have when we come together through our union, and the need for all of us to step up and be part of the solution.

VMOs are special people, but becoming one does not take any inside knowledge or a particular set of skills; it only takes an interest in making life better for our families by strengthening our union, and the desire to talk with fellow workers about it.

Improving Lives

AFSCME will focus our political efforts on fighting for the issues that matter the most to you, and to all working families. The priority will be bread-and-butter concerns like improving wages and working conditions, retirement security, winning more family-friendly policies in the workplace and restoring balance to an economy that favors only the rich rather than America’s working families. This is not a fight for only AFSCME leaders and activists; we all can play a role in taking this fight to the bargaining table, to state legislatures and to Congress.

A critical component of AFSCME’s political strategy will continue to be PEOPLE, our political and legislative advocacy program. But to make this program as effective as it can be, more of us will need to increase our activism. Building the PEOPLE program at the local level will give us the strength we need to fight at the ballot box for the critical issues affecting the lives of public workers.

Educate the Public

Finally, all of us must remind Americans of the value of public services by speaking out about what we do and how important it is, and showcasing our good work. Too often politicians point to government workers when they need someone to blame or to distort the facts about their record. Through one-on-one conversations, social media, videos and advertising, our union will change the conversation about public workers by focusing on how our work improves our communities.

Your role in this regard is especially critical. You can blog. You can take to Twitter when you come across something that inaccurately describes public service workers, or to broadcast something that actually tells the truth about us. You can post on Facebook and share articles about the value of unions and public services to sustaining America’s working families.

“We must rebuild faith in public services and the people who provide them,” Pres. Lee Saunders told a group of AFSCME leaders. “Our words and actions must communicate the importance of government action and public services for the greater good.”

As our economy and politics become increasingly stacked in favor of the wealthy and large corporations, unions are still the only way for workers to get a fair shake. With this New Year, we are committed to build upon that legacy, lift up all working families and fulfill the promise of American life.


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