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Photo credit: Mark Cavanagh

Activists Share Ideas, Develop Best Practices to Strengthen AFSCME

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By Ashley Jenkins and Raju Chebium Worth the Fight Activism AFSCME Strong Training Labor Movement Organizing Workers' Rights

Nineteen committed activists met in late July in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, for the first of many planned AFSCME activist exchanges to share ideas and strategies to strengthen our union.

These activists, who were trained through the AFSCME Strong program, have taken steps to grow their locals and understand the need to sharpen our skills to win the battles ahead. During the July 22-23 exchange, they discussed what practices are working and how to become more effective. 

“Each person in the room offered positive input to support our union … to improve and make changes as needed to the way we communicate with members,” said Mary Townsend of Local 357 (Rhode Island Council 94).

Through a panel discussion, a question-and-answer session and small-group discussions, they were able to share success stories, lessons learned and new ideas. The discussions culminated in the group developing “best practices” to take home to improve the work they’re already doing.

The strategies they developed to increase membership and win fights include:

  1. Using conversations at work to make connections and increase union visibility;
  2. Negotiating contract language that guarantees leave for union activities;
  3. Visiting co-workers at home;
  4. Engaging members to contribute to the PEOPLE program, AFSCME’s political program that allows us to hold politicians accountable;
  5. Convening labor-management meetings to resolve issues;
  6. Using new-employee orientations to sign up new co-workers;
  7. Solving workplace issues using direct action like petitions or a march on the boss;
  8. Mapping and charting work buildings and locations so we know where to find members and non-members; and
  9. Forming member-action teams to keep everyone engaged.

New ideas that emerged from the group included dedicating an activist to track membership levels and target nonmembers for engagement to reach 100 percent membership; printing in-house temporary membership cards which serve as follow-up tools; presenting trophies to locals who achieve 100 percent membership and circulating fillable PDF membership cards to be used during one-on-one conversations.

Kevin B. Williams of Local 2292 (AFSCME New Jersey) said he found “great value in hearing how my brothers and sisters found victories in ‘thinking outside the box.’”

Not only did the activists sharpen their skills and share ideas, they left feeling better connected with their brothers and sisters from across state lines. For 1½ days, they got to truly learn from one another, lift each other up and feel the energy and excitement around the brotherhood and sisterhood that is AFSCME; not to mention the friendly competition and camaraderie that emerged during a night of bowling.

Bryan Phenicie from Local 2367 (Pennsylvania Council 85) said what he found most useful during the exchange was, “The networking and communication outside of my own council and the opportunity to exchange ideas and practices.”

The activists attending the two-day event came from Connecticut Council 4; Delaware Council 81; Maryland Councils 3 and 67; AFSCME New Jersey; New York Local 1000 (CSEA); Pennsylvania Councils 13, 47, 85 and 90; Philadelphia Local 1199c and Council 47; Rhode Island  Council 94; and Washington, D.C. District Council 20