PEF staff members learn to ‘blitz’ in Alaska
By SHERRY HALBROOK
“Amazing” is how PEF Associate Director of Field Service Organizing Dan Carpenter describes a week of training he and two PEF field representatives, Teddy Vazquez and Ryan Stoliker, received in Anchorage, Alaska in April.
The training in organizing techniques and member engagement was conducted by the American Federation of Teachers, and – similar to the PEF Region 8 “blitz” of 2017 – involved 50 staff and members from AFT unions throughout the country working with the local members to reach out and engage workers about their union, the Alaskan Public Employees Association.
Six teams visited 47 worksites and knocked on 700 doors to update the local’s 2,000 members on their contract negotiations and other issues. The teams also asked the members to recommit to their union and invited feepayers to join it and actively participate in improving their working conditions.
“This was my first blitz training or experience,” Carpenter said, “and I’m excited to bring back to PEF the training and strategies to help build our collective strengths.”
Carpenter said he mostly worked on political campaigns before coming to PEF and was struck by the differences between that experience and what he learned about engaging and organizing union members.
“Political campaigns are all about reaching the maximum number of voters, so it is a quantitative value. But organizing union members is about the quality of the contact. It’s more important to listen, than to tell, and the goal is to develop a relationship with each person you contact.”
Stoliker said he, too, was struck by the differences in this experience, from his customary work as a PEF field representative.
“It’s easy to lose yourself when you are serving 54,000 members,” Stoliker said. “This was a much smaller group and it was more personal. You can see how every member does count.”
Stoliker said he found his previous job working for the Membership Benefits Program at PEF was relevant in this Alaskan blitz because it involved talking to people individually, as well as in groups at meetings.
“When the people in Alaska told me about their problems on the job, my field-rep instinct made me want to become a ‘fixer,’ but I couldn’t do that for them,” Stoliker said. Instead, he was able to share their concerns with their local union and its leaders. “It meant a lot to them, and I felt the importance of ensuring no one gets left behind.”
“This was a good opportunity to exchange experiences with union leaders in other states,” Vazquez said. “It gave me perspective into how different unionism is geographically and yet how we all have similarities as well.”
Vazquez said he was “encouraged to see that members can be mobilized with the right organizing approach and enthusiasm. “Members are looking to connect with their union. However, we must find the common points to drive that connection and make the first move to reach out and bring them into partnership with us.”
Each of the teams covered a lot of ground. Vazquez reported that his team knocked on 155 doors and held 12 workplace meetings. Their efforts garnered 50 signed recommitment cards. Stoliker’s team knocked on 139 doors and held 11 workplace meetings. That team came back with 60 signed recommitment cards. Carpenter’s team racked up 120 doors and held six workplace meetings. This team not only got 60 members to recommit to their union, they persuaded two feepayers to join it.
The worksites were generally smaller than in New York and scattered over a big area, but Stoliker said traveling from site to site was a pleasure because the Alaskan scenery was often “breathtaking.”
All in all, he said, “It was one of the better experiences I’ve ever had.”