Answering the Call to Organize!

Executive Vice President, Patrick Dillon

Roswell is a city in southeast New Mexico that is known as the site of an alleged UFO crash in 1947. Rather than shy away from the UFO legend, Roswell not only embraces it but celebrates its possible extraterrestrial past. Roswell is the home of the annual UFO Festival, the International UFO Museum, and UWUA Local 51. Local 51 represents the public workers of the City of Roswell and draws its charter number from the highly classified United States Air Force facility called Area 51 which is believed to be the home of crashed UFOs, government cover-ups and potential testing of alien technology.

UWUA was in the house! Members filled the hall outside the Roswell City Council chamber.
bottom-Nate Waters shared secrets of success behind the recent Amazon organizing victories during a session on diversity.

Local 51 was organized and chartered in 2004 and over the years has struggled to get members of the bargaining unit to sign up and participate in the union. While the local was impacted by the anti-worker Janus Supreme Court decision in 2018 – allowing employees within a bargaining unit the right to not join the union, although they enjoy all the benefits negotiated by the union – New Mexico has a similar law since Local 51 was chartered. These anti-worker laws and rulings have negatively impacted Local 51’s membership since its inception. But that all began to change in 2022 when the local elected a new group of officers. In November 2022, Vice President Bruce Andler and Treasurer Armondo Rosales joined President Rene Otero, who was elected earlier in the year.

It didn’t take long for the new officers to realize that their low membership numbers and low member engagement made operation of the local difficult. Consequently, the local had considerably less leverage against its employer. Working with National Representative Bob Houser, Local 51 put its financial house in order and then began to look at ways to increase its membership numbers. Houser set up a meeting with the UWUA’s National Organizing Director Deirdre Brill and National Organizer Valerie King. Together, Brill and King developed a plan to help Local 51.

Getting down to business at a breakout session on how to identify leaders in the workplace.

From April 26 to April 30, the UWUA organizing department lead an internal organizing training in Roswell that was attended by 54 members of the UWUA from 23 local unions across the country. Participants included members of UWUA’s various member committees including Human Rights, Safety, Veteran’s, Women’s, and Young Worker’s, as well as various UWUA staff and officers, and members of Local 51.

During the training, members actively participated in sessions, including:

  • The basics of internal organizing
  • Identifying a diverse group of leaders
  • Mapping the membership
  • The one-on-one organizing conversation
  • Narrative strategies
  • How to use Action Builder
  • Setting goals
  • Issue campaigns

In addition to the classroom training, the participants spent half of one afternoon building power and solidarity by attending the legal committee meeting of the Roswell City Council and another half a day doing phone calls and home visits to Local 51 bargaining unit members.

At the city council meeting, Local 433 and Veterans Committee member Craig Romanovich spoke on behalf of Local 51 President Rene Otero, who was at his second job during the meeting. Romanovich also asked questions during the report by the city’s safety coordinator. The council meeting was a good opportunity for our members to participate in an action and to think about its strategic value. The leadership of Local 51 received a call from management regarding the support of UWUA members from around the country and reported to the group the following day about the potential impact of the union presence at the meeting.

Brian Hannon of the safety committee met with the safety coordinator after the meeting and connected National Safety Director Scotty MacNeill with the local’s safety committee.

During the home visits and phone banking, the group knocked on 116 doors and made 77 phone calls, the results of which included 31 people signing a petition to the Roswell City Council on the upcoming cost of living increases, three new members sign-ups with five more committing to sign at the next local meeting which reached a quorum for the first time in nine months.

Although the members attending the training and related activities rated the experience extremely positively and Local 51 was very pleased with the National’s effort, our work is far from finished. In a subsequent city council budget meeting, the council approved only a 1% employee cost-of-living increase, instead of the expected 3%. In addition, they failed to approve step increases.

According to Local 51’s officers, the Roswell organizing training activated and engaged the local’s members. While members didn’t see results immediately, Local 51 members see all the ways the National will continue to work with Local 51 to increase its membership, develop stronger local solidarity, and actively pursue the voting out of city council members that refuse to support the employees of the city.