Fighting Back To Protect Working Families
Union members have always been the source of power for unions. It’s the power of workers that makes the boss say “yes” and the politicians listen. At a time when technological advances and innovation should be leading American families to prosperity, the gap between the rich and poor in the United States is wider than at any time in the past 100 years. Contract negotiations have become increasingly more difficult, and political/economic policy has become a nightmare for working families.
It doesn’t have to be this way. Working families can and should be doing better. Following Michigan Governor Rick Snyder signing into Michigan law “right-to-work” (for less) legislation, the top officers of UWUA decided, “Enough is Enough!”
In January of 2013, the Union launched an innovative new initiative to organize, educate, motivate, and mobilize all UWUA members.
“Join me in the fight to build worker power, build political power, and build the economic power we need to take back our country from those who seek to destroy it and the hard-working men and women who built it!” –Mike Langford
Internal Organizing in Michigan
On January 30, 2013, the 23 local unions comprising the MSUWC met to review the implications of “right-to-work” legislation. A few days later each of the divisions making up Local 223 did the same. Each group adopted the principles of establishing Member-to-Member Action Networks, and committed to utilizing existing steward systems and active local members to better engage each of their members.
Over the course of the next few months, meetings were held in Alpena, Holland, Traverse City, Port Huron, Monroe, and Bay City to support the development of Member-to-Member structures in each local – a total of 12 local unions participated. These combined efforts culminated in 36 of the 41 Michigan UWUA locals understanding the complexities of “right-towork,” and having an organizational template to organize our membership for the fight back.
Information Engages Members
To support the goal of creating greater membership activism, it is imperative to better inform local leaders on issues important to working families. A better-informed membership will result in having a more motivated and engaged union.
Over the next 25 months, to help implement the strategy, educational meetings and group seminars were conducted among numerous local unions and councils. Hundreds of UWUA leaders and members have attended these important sessions, and as a result, have a deeper understanding of labor’s rich history and the challenges facing workers today. Locals developed new strategies to enhance personal communication skills. Local unions participating in these important sessions included: MSUWC (23 local Member-to-Member Action Networks unions); AEP Council; Cal Water locals; all FirstEnergy locals (PA, OH, MD); Locals 69, 101,105, 132,160, 175, 223, 261, 388, 405, 483, 522, 537, and 600.
A National Priority
Over the past 25 months, comprehensive education and “hands on” work developing effective M2M structures took place at UWUA national, regional, and sector conferences including:
- The 2013 P4A Conference in Chicago, IL
- The National Coordinated Gas Conference in Orlando, FL
- The MSUWC 2014 Political Action Conference
- 2014 Region 1 Victory Conference – Atlantic City, NJ
- 2014 Region 2 Victory Conference – Harrisburg, PA
- 2014 Region 3 Victory Conference – Columbus, OH
- 2014 Region 4 Victory Conference – Chicago, IL
- 2014 Region 5 Victory Conference – Long Beach, CA
Publications and Communication
Preparing for the critically important 2014 mid-term elections, the UWUA E-Alert featured a seven-part series “economic update” intended to crystallize the impact of Washington economic policy decisions on working families. A variety of charts utilizing economic data and “talking points” gave local leaders the tools to have effective workplace discussions, preparing members for the election.
In addition, The Utility Worker quarterly magazine chronicles M2M strategies and successes that are intended to inspire others to action.
Member-2-Member in Action
Mobilizing for fair contracts, Local 600 developed a M2M Action Network to support 2014 bargaining. Likewise, Locals 132, 483, and 522 included the M2M approach to gather important information and member support for contract negotiations, Public Utilities Commission rate cases, and a landmark outside contracting arbitration.
Local 223 blazed the trail of using new innovations and member engagement in earlier negotiations and internal member contract campaign. Building on that success, the local utilized member activism as a tool to win a contract extension in 2013.
Throughout the struggle to win fair contracts for all FirstEnergy workers and defend members during the historic Local 180 lockout, dozens of FirstEnergy workers were mobilized to participate in community demonstrations and workplace actions designed to send messages of solidarity.
Supporting Community Needs
Local 175 engaged in multiple food collection drives to help struggling families survive in Dayton, OH. In addition, the Young Workers Initiative Committee launched M2M based community campaigns in each UWUA region.
UWUA members in Local 405 took M2M to a new level. Organizing UWUA members for the 2014 elections also included developing coalitions with Muskegon UAW and teacher union locals. Well over 100 community leaders joined with the leadership of Local 405 for the important Michigan election.
Local 1-2 developed a comprehensive neighborhood mapping strategy to reach out to 1-2 members to learn about workplace issues and recruit members to be more active in the local. The mapping strategy entailed identifying the location of each member’s home throughout the multi-state area. The member’s home is “pinned” and available on a mapping system that allows local leaders to conduct community meetings that are more convenient for members. In addition, the mapping provides invaluable assistance in identifying political action strategies.
As We Move Forward
The UWUA of the 21st Century must be fundamentally different than the UWUA of the 20th Century. Moving forward, management and workers’ political adversaries will become even more aggressive in attempting to reverse many historical gains made by union members. Therefore, every opportunity must be taken to engage more members, their families, and UWUA retirees in the affairs of the union. Moving forward, every local is encouraged to utilize M2M Action Networks to:
1) Rebuild America: UWUA members see first-hand our deplorable, deteriorating infrastructure. As we identify infrastructure needs, it will be UWUA leaders and members who will ignite a public discussion to rebuild America – and keep the country strong in the 21st Century.
2) Current Leaders Mentoring New Leaders: Each UWUA leader should commit to personally mentoring at least 2 coworkers (younger members) to be active union leaders.
3) Young Workers Initiative: The key to the future are younger members. As workplace knowledge is transferred to develop a new generation of leaders, meaningful personal relationships among all members must be built, and the best use of available technology to have the best-informed membership possible must be utilized.
4) Retired Workers: As workers retire from their jobs – they never retire from the union. Each local union should dedicate resources to develop active retiree chapters that can become an extension of the local union and continue vital resources to be used in our fight for justice
5) Women’s Caucus: The workforce is becoming more diverse, and the UWUA embraces the opportunity to make sure “that a woman’s place is in her union.”
The ability to organize, inform, motivate, and mobilize members to action is the key to success. For the union to grow and win justice for members and their families, a historic level of member activism is needed. Having a strong and effective Member-to-Member program in each local union will be the key to future success.