Across the state, classified employees are convincing fee payers to upgrade to full union membership, and convincing coworkers to support the union’s Committee on Political Education, or COPE. 

The flurry of internal organizing falls under the twin banners of the Strategic Campaign Initiative and Building Our Power. Grants from the former help locals meet their political organizing goals, while the latter awards grants based on potential for member growth.

In Los Angeles, SCI coordinator Suleman Ishaque said College Staff Guild organizers mapped where AFT Local 1521A members and fee payers work on the L.A. Community College District’s nine campuses and district headquarters. Most classified AFT members are clustered in several spots on each worksite, while fee payers generally work by themselves.

“Member-to-member contact is very important,” Ishaque said. “These people have had minimal, if any, contact with the union. In some cases they didn’t realize they weren’t union members.” 

Two Los Angeles campuses already have 99.9 percent membership, but the SCI team has vowed to reach every fee payer and convince each person to join the union. The most effective argument to join the Staff Guild, he said, is the package of benefits available to full AFT members, from automobile loans to having a say in how the union carries out its mission.

“Member-to-member contact is very important. In some cases people didn’t realize they weren’t union members.” 

— Suleman Ishaque, SCI coordinator Los Angeles

The Staff Guild has resolved to have an SCI coordinator at each of the 10 sites in the district and to reach all members to enroll them in the union’s political work. They also wanted to increase the number of members who have received leadership training from 264 to 289 employees, but already surpassed that target and have trained 293 members.

In Orange County, the Coast Federation of Classified Employees represents about 700 staff in the Coastline, Golden West and Orange Coast campuses and the district office in Costa Mesa. About 90 percent are already AFT members.

“Organizing and communicating with our members is something we always want to do,” said Katherine Reedy, the local’s executive director and SCI coordinator. Two executive board members are SCI organizers and track progress.

Like the Staff Guild, the Coast Federation team is mapping where fee payers and union members work, then having one-on-one conversations about contract negotiations, political campaigns, and other issues.

“When an employee sees their union rep daily,” Reedy said, “they feel involved and see what representation means.”

The Coast Federation recently held an Oktoberfest COPE fundraiser. “People had a great time. It was a chance to get engaged in the workplace and around issues built on relationships.”