In a panel discussion moderated by Joanne Waddell, president of the Los Angeles College Faculty Guild, four leaders in very different situations — three from California and one from Texas, a right-to-work state — talked about what they’d done to significantly increase their membership and get people involved with the union.
Zohara Kaye: To increase membership in her local, the Glendale College Guild, Zohara Kaye started the Membership and Mobilization Task Force because she figured who could resist being on the M&M Task Force? But Kaye went beyond M&Ms in her drive to turn fee payers into members.
In the first phase of the drive, the local used email and grew membership from 68 percent to 69. Deciding this wasn’t enough, Kaye moved on to phase 2 — joining CFT’s Building Power program; hiring a graphic artist; taking control of their data management; mobilizing members to work for the extension of Proposition 30, and having food events, including one on racial equity, to bring people together.
Biggest challenge: Cleaning up our databases.
One piece of advice: Do not underestimate the power of one-on-one.
Amy Foote: When faculty members they serve were told to hold mandatory unpaid office hours, Amy Foote, president of Part-Time Faculty United at College of the Canyons in Santa Clarita, knew that with only 38 percent membership, they didn’t have a strong voice in negotiations. The CFT Building Power program, she said, was a huge help.
The local decided to do an online petition and set a goal of 160 signatures in two days. They got 200. They began tabling on campus about the new, unpaid hours and collected more than 2,400 signatures. That overwhelming show of support ended up winning pay for the office hours and growing local membership to 62 percent — and they’re not done. Foote says they now hold an adjunct orientation each semester, do department retreats, and have workshops for members.
Biggest challenge: Organizing schedules to meet with faculty one-on-one between classes.
One piece of advice: Organize your membership forms and your databases.
Sergio Robledo-Maderazo: The Jefferson Federation of Teachers in Daly City, representing classified and certificated as well as substitute teachers and coaches, had 99 percent membership, certainly making it a strong union on paper, President Sergio Robledo-Maderazo acknowledged.
But he wanted more — to work on issues such as just wages, housing, and equity, and to develop more outreach to hear member concerns and increase engagement. Robledo-Maderazo used himself as an example to show what unions need to do more of.
“I went 10 years without getting involved in my union,” he said. “I was against gentrification and the prison industrial complex, and I would have said I believed in unions, but I was not taking action. I know — I was one of those annoying people. But I’ve learned we can’t wait for people to come to us.”
Biggest challenge: Figuring out how to change the culture.
One piece of advice: Embrace every single victory — this work is hard. Just starting to do these things is a victory.
“I was against gentrification and the prison industrial complex, and I would have said I believed in unions, but I was not taking action.”
— Sergio Robledo-Maderazo, President, Jefferson Federation of Teachers
From Texas: A right-to-work-for-less state
In Texas, Ray McMurrey said there are three parties — the Democrats, the Republicans, and the Lunatics. Sometimes, the Texas AFT needs to endorse a moderate Republican just to keep out the Lunatics, or the far right.
Things are different in his state, said McMurrey, Secretary Treasurer of the Texas AFT, since they are not guaranteed a place at the table and, in fact, are prohibited from collective bargaining. But they can’t miss something they haven’t had, and they’re winning on some issues anyway, McMurrey added.
“We beat back tying testing to teacher evaluation — that doesn’t happen in Texas,” he said. “Would we rather have collective bargaining? Sure we would, but that doesn’t mean we can’t still win.”
The fundamental question we’re dealing with, McMurrey said, is how to get members involved. If it’s the same 10 percent of the membership always showing up at events, then we need to think about doing different kinds of events.
One new event was building a house with Habitat for Humanity. Fifty members showed up, wearing their AFT shirts, McMurrey said, and they weren’t the same ones who attend political meetings. Working on a house was a chance for the carpenters and plumbers to shine, telling the teachers and counselors what to do.
“Get out and talk to members,” McMurrey said. “Own your power.”
Biggest challenge: Consistent and uniform engagement.
One piece of advice: Turn your union offices back into union halls and grow the union culture.