New Members Make Our Union Stronger

Local 151’s Daverly Bodom, Jacqueline Harden, Dawn Flores, Linda Oelfjenbruns, and Suzanne Kocurek are helping to build their union.

In January 2014, AFSCME International threw down the challenge: It dared locals to sign up 50,000 new members before the July convention. Members in Minnesota and across the country responded – big time. Council 5 locals signed up 3,210 new members. Nationally, AFSCME added 92,155 members – nearly twice its goal.

In the simplest terms, adding members is a matter of survival. New members provide the strength necessary to withstand the relentless attacks coming from the U.S. Supreme Court, from Congress and state legislators, and from the vast anti-union network that is bankrolled by the Koch Brothers, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, and millionaire CEOs. It’s no different in Minnesota

“County Board members, politicians, management, and many private citizens want to get rid of unions and union workers,” says Suzanne Kocurek, of Ramsey County Human Services Local 151. “They threaten to take our work, contract out, privatize, and pay someone less to do the same job without benefits. We have to fight this at all levels.”

Making sure everybody knows

Ramsey County locals are taking that fight head on – using an innovative, unified strategy. They’re eliminating barriers between locals. They’re working together to sign up co-workers, regardless of which local they’re part of.
“Before, Local 8 people would talk only to Local 8 people,” says Alison Kelly. “And we were missing 20 or 30 people who could be AFSCME members who weren’t being asked. Now it’s no longer a matter of being a member of Local 8, or 151 or 707 or 1076 or 1935 or 2599. It’s about being a member of AFSCME.”

That teamwork has paid off: Together, the Ramsey County locals added 230 members. And they’re still going, because they expect to exercise that power during contract negotiations this fall.

“All of the Ramsey County locals in AFSCME bargain together,” Kelly says. “So it doesn’t make any sense for Local 8 to increase our numbers by 5 percent if the rest of the locals can’t do that, too.”

The locals mapped out detailed plans to reach potential members. One is a beefed-up effort that introduces AFSCME to new hires during orientation, then follows up as they settle in to their new job.

The more complicated effort involves asking fair-share payers to become full members. Local 151, for example, enlisted about 40 active members to take names of co-workers they were willing to talk with – and made sure they did so, Kocurek says. Local 8 – which has members at 45 different sites – identified where it was weak, then figured out the best way to contact those members. Sometimes, it was a co-worker from another local. Sometimes, it required local leaders to make targeted site visits.

“There is no cookie-cutter,” Kelly says. “Each department, each division, each group, each person requires a different way to do it. But when people see what our union does and why we have a union, you barely have to ask. It’s ‘Yeah, I want to be part of that – why wouldn’t I want to be part of that?’ ”