EAST SYRACUSE — With more than 2,000 workers spread out over eight counties and more than 200 work sites, reaching 100 percent union membership could have seemed like an insurmountable goal for our Central New York Developmental Disabilities Services Office (DDSO) Local officers.
They never got discouraged. With a strong effort and a team approach, Central New York DDSO Local officers converted all of the local’s remaining agency fee payers to dues paying members.
Recently, CSEA Statewide Treasurer Bill Walsh stopped by our Central Region office to present several local officers with a letter of congratulations from CSEA President Danny Donohue on reaching this important milestone.
Donohue’s letter read, in part, “Your leaders have led by example, showing dedication and persistence in meeting this goal. Their tireless efforts every day signing up new employees and converting agency shop fee payers to members has increased our membership and strengthened this union.”
“When you put the effort in to signing up so many members, that’s quite an accomplishment,” Walsh told the officers as he presented Donohue’s letter to them.
A major challenge
Central New York DDSO Local President Don Page said their efforts were a long time coming.
“In 2013, under previous (local) President Don Meenan, we had about 32 agency fee payers. He said. ‘Let’s work on this and see how we can bring that number down,’” Page said.
Converting fee payers to full members proved to be a difficult endeavor for the local, as officers didn’t have accurate lists of employees who had been out on leave, or where they worked.
“Just finding where [the fee payers]are was a challenge,” Page said. “We have them all over Central New York.”
By early 2018, the local had gotten that number down into the high teens, but they still weren’t ready to give up.
“One of the big challenges was trying to convince people who were already paying fees why they should join,” said Central New York DDSO Local 3rd Vice President Matt Spellicy.
“Different people had different reasons for not signing up,” said Central New York DDSO Local Treasurer Paul Stone.
Membership is valuable
Earlier this year, local officers sent letters to each of the fee payers, along with a membership card and a self-addressed, stamped envelope.
Following that mailing, officers kept a close eye on their lists and made phone calls and personal visits to those who didn’t return the membership cards.
Page noted that the constant presence of the state’s Justice Center on the minds of all state Office for People With Developmental Disabilities (OPWDD) workers also helped convince workers to join the union.
“We have the best labor attorneys around, and our members realize the value of that protection,” he said.
Labor Relations Specialist Denise Campbell helped local officers by keeping in contact with CSEA’s Membership Department to ensure workers who signed membership cards got them processed promptly.
“[Campbell] was very instrumental on keeping us focused,” Page said.
CSEA’s member engagement efforts around the state also helped raise awareness and visibility of the union.
When it came time to signing up the very last holdout, Spellicy went to the worker’s home to get the card signed.
When they reported that they had reached 100 percent in May, officers said they had an awesome sense of accomplishment.
“We were high-fiving each other,” Page said. “It was a walk home grand slam; it was thrilling.”
Central New York DDSO Local 1st Vice President Barry Richards noted that it was a complete team effort.
“With Denise as our coordinator, we each took parts and we reported back to each other,” Richards said. “We kept each other updated, and it was a true team effort.”
— Mark M. Kotzin