Thousands of members engage with PEF through a mobilization blitz
Story by DEBORAH A. MILES
The strategic plan to go door-to-door and talk to PEF members about the urgency to stand by your union did not include a blizzard that blanketed the Capital Region with almost two feet of snow. But Mother Nature did not stop the 36 union members whose mission it was to inform, enlighten and engage PEF members to recommit with PEF against the threats facing organized labor.
Six teams that included PEF members, PEF staff and union colleagues from the American Federation of Teachers (AFT) knocked on 928 doors between March 13 and March 17. On Tuesday, the day of the blizzard, they made 590 attempted phone calls to members at their homes. At noon time and in the evening, they held 27 worksite meetings where a total of 1,239 members listened and asked questions about the future of labor.
The results included 1,175 signed recommitment cards, 73 new COPE members and seven fee-payers switched to full membership.
And it was all accomplished in one whirlwind week.
Nationwide labor threats
The AFT union members and staff came to the Capital Region from Alaska, Connecticut, Illinois, Kansas, Maryland and Washington, D.C.
“Labor is facing existential threats nationwide and we must strengthen our union power at every level,” said Jennifer Porcari, an AFT senior associate director.
“Fifty-four thousand PEF members need to understand what the threats are to labor across the country and what we are facing in public employment at every level. Membership engagement is no longer an option, as we must engage in the fight to maintain our power.”
The groups were thoroughly trained on the science of organizing, as well as local issues such as New York’s Constitutional Convention and how it could have the potential to change the state pension plan if passed.
This mobilization blitz took place in PEF Region 8 and its coordinator Michael Blue spoke at several noon-time meetings about how essential and crucial it is to get involved.
“Now is the time to reconnect with PEF. We need everyone to stand together. Your stewards are working for you every day to ensure any labor issues at your agency are taken seriously and addressed. But PEF is heavily dependent on each and every one of you. You are the strength of the union.
“A new granddaughter came into my life five weeks ago. When I look at her, I want her to have the same, if not better, benefits that I enjoy. The same benefits you enjoy. I’m here to let you know, we need you,” Blue said.
While dusk settled over the greater Albany area, the groups went knocking on doors, equipped not only with messages about the threats to the labor movement, but also to listen to members about their workplace issues.
PEF President Wayne Spence, who door-knocked on two evenings, said, “When PEF members opened their doors and welcomed us into their homes, a connection was made. Our professional members are aware of threats to labor in our country and state. The PEF presence we provided was not only reassuring to them, but it was an opportunity for us to emphasize how each individual is needed to secure our union.”
“The blitz motivates people,” said Jeff Hutchinson, a new steward and an information technology specialist at the State Insurance Fund.
“When face-to-face with some people, their response was, ‘Wow, my union is actually coming out to talk to me!’ That was the most rewarding part of doing the blitz. People were grateful we took the time to knock on their doors and discuss PEF’s concerns and answer their questions.
“That positive reinforcement makes you feel your efforts are appreciated. It’s great to see people who acknowledge their union and have support for it. I worked in the private sector where there were no negotiations. Your bargaining power was very limited. So I want to send a message that if we work together, we can accomplish our goals. We have to be on the same page, especially with legislation that could affect people in a negative way,” Hutchinson said.
Ralph Mabb, a graphic designer at the state Department of Motor Vehicles and a PEF Executive Board member, said, “I was nervous at the first door knock, but when we introduced ourselves as volunteers for our union, that set the tone. We were able to recruit people to be mobilizers, so they can help disseminate information to their co-workers about the challenges facing PEF and other unions. We need to do this across the state, because of the stiff challenges coming our way. We need to inform, educate and motivate all our members.”
One of the groups included PEF field representative Debra Greenberg who works daily with members facing disciplinary issues.
“The blitz allowed us to reach out to the 95 percent of members who we never hear from, those not involved with grievances or disciplinary matters,” Greenberg said. “These members were eager to share their experiences, hear what we had to say, and appreciated being informed about issues such as the state’s Constitutional Convention.”
Watch the videos of PEF and AFT members in their own words. Click on their names: Jeff, Christine, Lynette, and Bill.
Across state lines
“I have learned so much being a part of PEF’s blitz, things which could have helped us in Kansas where it is a right-to-work state,” said Lynette Lewis, a member of the Kansas Organization of State Employees. “The knowledge everyone has and their willingness to share has been invaluable. Being in a union is important to me because I don’t like seeing people being taken advantage of.”
Bill Garrity, the newly-elected president of the University Health Professionals in Connecticut, was raised in a union family and understands how activism is essential in order to succeed.
“I volunteered to be part of PEF’s mobilization blitz to learn better ways to engage members,” Garrity said. “The knowledge gained through events such as this empowers us. All unions need to be stronger and to preserve the right of collective bargaining. If you don’t have a seat at the table, you’re on the menu.”
Blue said an 18-month follow-up plan is in the works for this member engagement campaign. It includes statewide training in other PEF regions and engaging mobilizing teams to meet with members to reiterate the need for increased union participation.