MANHATTAN — Following two successful region member engagement campaigns, our Metropolitan Region leaders, activists and staff recently huddled to take the next steps necessary to preserve our union in the face of looming challenges.

“One of the things that we are looking to accomplish by having this session today is to start preparing people for voluntary unionism in the near future,” said Metropolitan Region President Lester Crockett, to a crowd of more than 50 people.

Unions are concerned that upcoming U.S. Supreme Court cases that challenge worker rights and protections will lead them to disappear.

The threat stemming from the U.S. Supreme Court case Friedrichs vs. California Teachers Association,was eliminated with the 2016 death of Justice Antonin Scalia. All eyes are now on Janus vs AFSCME.
It’s a threat John English, a former staff representative and assistant director of a Wisconsin AFSCME Council, knows all too well.

“Today, unions in Wisconsin have been reduced to nothing more than employee advocate groups,” said English, currently an AFSCME area director. “The idea of a grievance no longer exists, seniority…none of that exists.”
Wisconsin, known as the birthplace of AFSCME, once had three councils and more than 60,000 members.

Following the passage of Act 10, membership is now under 10,000 members.

English noted that one of many ways members were affected include how lower-paid employees, who once paid about $40 per month for a decent health care plan, now have to fork over $4,000 per year for the same plan.

“We were too tolerant of non-activism, of letting one or two people run the show in local unions,” said English. “It’s imperative that we have these conversations with our members about the importance and the value of the union.”

During the session, members discussed the various reasons why workers decide to engage — or not engage — with the union and the issues that were more than likely to resonate with them.

The strategy meeting was quickly followed up with another session a few weeks later on how to map locals to design a plan to reach all the members in the region.

“The point of doing all this is so we can begin to take action,” said Joel Schwartz, CSEA’s deputy director of Contract Administration.

— David Galarza

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