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From Steward Update: Volume Twenty-Four, Number Five

Talk about “mobilizing union member” and many people picture mass rallies, large picket lines and similar actions – huge undertakings that involve considerable long-range planning, coordination and a lot of people working to make the activity a success. Such events can be vitally important to a union’s success, but it’s the smaller, more manageable mobilizations that can mean the most to stewards fighting day-to-day on behalf of their co-workers.

It’s the smart steward whose bag of tricks contains a variety of small-scale mobilization tactics. Let’s look at some – and situations in which they can help.

Grievances that affect a group of workers offer the opportunity to mobilize members. Activities like these have been successful in grievance situations:

  • Talk to the affected workers on-on-one to gather information about the grievance. Informal one-on-one meetings enable you to talk to a worker in-depth about the issue and to explain what the union can do. It also shows that you care about the individual worker’s problems.
  • Invite the affected workers to a group meeting to get more information, and to discuss what they as a group can do with the union to solve the problem. The meeting will show them that they are not alone, and that, collectively, there is a better chance to achieve success.
  • If your contract and your union’s practice allows for the filing of group of mass grievances, ask all of the affected workers to sign the grievance form. This is a petition with teeth.
  • In some locals it is the practice to file many individual grievances and swamp management with paperwork and grievance meetings. This can also be very effective.
  • When you present the grievance(s), take all of the affected workers with you to the boss’s office. The boss may know how to deal with a routine grievance, but will be less sure of himself when faced with a group of united workers.

Unfair Labor Practices
If you have the authority to file unfair labor practices (ULPs), consider the following: in addition to filing with the labor board, you’re required to serve a copy of the ULP on management. Instead of mailing it, why not deliver it yourself? Take a group of workers affected by the ULP with you. I have done this with groups ranging from six workers to 250. You should see the look on the boss’s face when a group shows up at this office to serve the ULP. And even more important is the look on the faces of the union member participants right after the action. They are glowing with a sense of power.

Keep in mind that many of the workers you bring may not have the authority to use the employer’s time, so you may want to plan this activity on their lunch hour. Always coordinate this type of action with your leadership.

Mid-term Bargaining
In many locals, stewards are responsible for bargaining over changes in working conditions that arise during the term of the contract. Use these occasions to mobilize your co-workers. Get input from the affected workers using one-on-one discussions and group meetings. Discuss with them how they feel about the proposed change and get ideas for bargaining proposals. Brainstorm on actions that they can do to support the union bargaining team, such as petitions, surveys, T-shirt days, wall signs, and so on. This will enable the bargaining team to go to the table with the workers visibly behind them.

Legislative Activities
As your union leadership for help in calling a meeting before or after work or at lunchtime to work on a legislative issue that directly affects your members. Examples could include legislation involving fair trade, attacks on collective bargaining, public sector cutbacks and privatization, health and safety, your state’s workers’ compensation program of a community Living Wage standard. At the meeting explain the issue and ask members to write letters to politicians, sign petitions or do other appropriate tasks. Ask your local leadership for help in getting information on the subject at hand. In the public sector you should also check with your leadership about any laws or regulations affecting when and where workers can engage in legislative activity.

Building Membership and Participation
Small-scale worker mobilizations are a perfect opportunity to recruit new members in situations in which union membership is not a requirement of employment. Involving workers in union struggles around issues they care about is one of the best ways to sign up new people. Explain that the union strength comes from a large and involved membership. The more members we have, and the more involved they are, the stronger the union will be – and the better able to win on the issue at hand. Tell the workers that the best way for them to achieve victory is to become an active union member. Make sure to check your contract and with your local leadership on the appropriate times and locations to conduct membership recruiting.

Whether you’re in an open shop, agency shop, or union shop, small-scale mobilizations are one of the best methods to recruit new members, increase involvement and achieve victory. They take a minimal amount of planning, and increase everyone’s sense of power and solidarity.

-Carl Goldman. The writer is executive director of AFSCME, Council 26.