One in four of AFT’s 1.56 million members belong to a small local, and 90 percent of AFT local unions are considered small, defined as having fewer than 600 members.
While belonging to a small local can foster a sense of teamwork, small locals often come up short of the resources, training and volunteers to effectively represent members, according to a new AFT task force.
Last June, the AFT Executive Council appointed 17 leaders of small locals to examine conditions, assess support from AFT and state federations, and analyze their role in the union’s strategic initiatives.
The task force began by studying small locals. Few are as small as the Horicon Elementary Federation of Teachers located in a remote region of Northern California. AFT Local 4415’s classified unit only has 12 members.
Geographic isolation is a factor. “Our field rep has a 2-hour drive over curvy mountain roads to get to the school for meetings,” said Classified Representative Cheryl Spencer. Nonetheless, Spencer gave CFT good marks for support during recent contract negotiations.
“Our rep gave us insight into what other units were doing to help their members,” Spencer said. “CFT provided us with legal opinions on contested issues, updated information about current contractual language, and changes to Ed Code and laws that affect our current contracts.”
The AFT task force recommended new programs, changes in existing projects and approaches, and leadership training.
Carl Williams, head of the 250-member Lawndale Federation of Classified Employees and a member of the task force, is enthusiastic about reviving the annual Local Presidents Conference. “Sometimes a small local president’s biggest support is another president from a small local, who can give you an immediate answer to a problem because they’ve already faced it,” he said.
The most common problems that small classified locals face are financial. “We all hope we never face a problem that will require a major expenditure,” Williams said.
The task force recommended expanding access to the Legal Defense Fund to defray the high cost of important arbitrations. If an AFT local receives a legal defense grant, the cost is split three ways between the AFT, CFT and the local.
“Even with that help,” Williams said, “it’s still easier for a larger local to pay their third than a smaller local, and it’s easier for a small certificated local to pay than a small classified local.”
The task force also suggested creating “leave banks” so more local officers can be released during periods of intense activity; having an upgraded database linking all AFT locals and presidents by mail, phone and email; and improving how AFT provides training and tools to incoming officers.
The Executive Board will present the task force’s recommendations to the AFT Convention this summer and, if adopted, the AFT will convene a working group to implement the changes.
By the numbers: All AFT local unions
3,370 Locals chartered by the AFT
3,019 Locals with fewer than 600 members (90 percent)
1,819 Locals with fewer than 100 members (54 percent)