“What’s It Take to Get Into the Union?”

How Local 270’s Coggins Got Hooked on Organizing

Dave Coggins is a 35-year member of Local 270 working as a master mechanic at the Perry Nuclear Power Plant in Ohio. He helped organize technicians there some years ago and has volunteered to organize other utility workers who do not have union representation. As support for unions reaches a peak not seen in decades, the UWUA is ramping up its volunteer organizing training to keep pace with the interest being expressed by unorganized utility workers nationwide to join the union. The Utility Worker recently spoke with Coggins about his experience as a volunteer organizer.

Pictured left: Local 270 master mechanic and volunteer organizer Dave Coggins is pictured here with Perry Nuclear Plant senior radiation technicians, members of a unit he helped organize. Left to right, Frank Glass, chief job steward Jim Wilson, Jon Anderson, and Coggins.

UW: What was your first organizing experience?

DC: I first got involved when my local union leadership attempted to organize the technicians at the Perry Plant in the late 1980s. I was young, then. I would listen to the technicians on lunch breaks venting their frustrations with management — the health physics, chemistry, and I & C [instrument and controls] guys. They would start crabbing and complaining about this or that and they would ask about what we have in our contract. And when enough of them asked, “What’s it take to get us into the union?” that’s when I got hooked. That was my first organizing drive.

UW: How did that campaign end up?

DC: Our first attempt at organizing the Perry technicians failed. Still, I learned a lot and wanted to do more.

UW: What did you do next?

DC: After the Perry loss, I was asked by the National Union if I would be interested in getting some organizing training. So I went to the AFL-CIO’s George Meany Institute. That’s when I met Bob Houser [UWUA director of organizing] and I did a couple of campaigns with him. I did a lot of house calling at Columbia Gas and Peco Energy.

We eventually went back to the Perry technicians, who said they wanted to give it another try. I was very involved the second time around. I did a lot of legwork. I built a database, got cards signed and got it to the point where we were ready to file for an election. It was the first time I really got to sit in with the NLRB at the hearing and participate in all of the things that go on for a union election. It was an eye-opener. That campaign we won. The technicians are negotiating their third contract now.

UW: How does it make you feel when you win a campaign?

DC: It’s satisfying to know that you helped a group of people that wanted to join the union. I stay in touch with people all the way through ‘til their into contract negotiations. If they have any questions, if they have any concerns, I share them with whomever I’m working with so they can be addressed.

UW: Why did you decide to become a volunteer organizer?

DC: It’s kind of in my blood. My father [Edward Coggins] was a union member. He was the national region III director. He did a fair amount of organizing when I was a young guy growing up. I could see what he was doing. He did it. I thought I would too.

UW: What do you like about being a volunteer organizer?

DC: I’m doing my part to give back to the union. The union has done a lot for me over the years. I started out pushing a broom and, because of job progressions, steps laid out in the contract, I ended up a master mechanic. I want other people to have the same opportunity I had.

UW: What do you want other UWUA members to know about being a volunteer organizer?

DC: The same thing as when I’m talking to the new members when we are organizing them: Your union is only as strong as you want it to be. Promote your union and see it grow. Try to help your fellow workers that aren’t unionized have a voice in their workplace. The more members we have, the stronger we are.