Why does anyone join the union? …because someone asks them

Member organizers from local unions throughout the state joined forces at Palomar College to meet one-on-one with part-time faculty agency fee payers who had not yet signed their union cards — and asked them to join the union.

The 17 organizers who took part in the four-day membership drive are part of the CFT Strategic Campaign Initiative, a matching grant program for local unions doing political organizing work, both external and internal.

They and union staff collaborated with the Palomar Faculty Federation, AFT Local 6161, the union representing faculty on the San Marcos campus and recipient of an SCI organizing grant.

From April 13 to 16, Palomar members and SCI organizers had one-on-one conversations with 74 part-time faculty and 41 chose to join the union.

Debbie Forward, an organizer with the Palomar Federation, called the membership drive “a valuable way to kick off our outreach to part-time faculty.”

Forward and others laid the groundwork for the organizing blitz. Along with Co-President Shannon Lienhart and Office Manager Amy Hlavaty, the local assembled the complex schedule of classes taught by part-time faculty, created materials to communicate Federation values and priorities, and prepared packets for the visiting organizers.

Even though the SCI organizers attend biennial group trainings to learn core organizing skills such as building strong worksites, identifying leaders, engaging in one-on-one conversations, and running successful political action drives, the Palomar effort was the first time they collectively put their skills to the test on campus.

Forward says the local’s work is not done, but the successful membership drive helped establish a direction for the local to continue in the coming months. “Our executive board now has concrete goals for organizing conversations and developing relationships,” she said, “and for building our union in the best interest of our entire faculty.”

— By Jessica Ulstad, CFT Political Field Director

Pivotal U.S. Supreme Court decision looms CFT launches two-pronged campaign to build union power

Recent CFT victories cannot overshadow the magnitude of the forces undermining public education and working people. While the benefits of Proposition 30 are energizing, new assaults are multiplying.

A current lawsuit, Friedrichs v. California Teachers Association, seeks to eliminate current union “fair share” provisions, also called “agency fee.” If it succeeds, the funds available to unions would dwindle while non-paying bargaining unit members would continue to benefit from union representation at no charge.  

When this case is viewed alongside anti-union legislation nationwide, a clear picture emerges. Fifteen states have passed laws limiting collective bargaining and 25 states have introduced right-to-work legislation, or as the labor movement calls it, “right-to-work-for-less.” When Indiana passed right-to-work legislation in 2012, within less than a year, union membership fell by 56,000.

In states where union fair share has been eliminated, union members have been barraged by well-financed, right-wing campaigns that include phone calls, mail pieces, ads, billboards, and social media posts urging them to withdraw from their unions.

The Supreme Court is expected to rule on the Friedrichs case within the next 15 months. Although California remains a stronghold of union membership, this is a federal case and would affect California the same as any other state.

With this in mind, the Federation has developed a two-pronged plan in its new campaign “Building Power for Our Local Unions and the CFT.”

First, the union wants to reach out to each member and reinforce the importance of union membership, as well as ask current agency fee payers to become full union participants.

Second, the CFT wants to help build effective worksite leadership structures with the goal of building the union’s capacity in collective bargaining, communications, coalition building, political action, and strategic planning.

Union leaders and staff have already begun work on the Building Power program so the Federation can not only meet the challenges ahead, but flourish in the years to come.

— By CFT Staff