A Culture of Organizing

By BARBARA TERRELONGE

For decades, our union has largely focused on providing services to members. But in recent years we learned we must do more.

As we faced institutional malaise and a multi-million dollar, anti-union campaign by a national right-wing network intensified we decided to shift our focus toward what’s known as an organizing model of unionism.

Through worksite visits and improved communications, we highlight the value of unions, while urging members to become more involved.

At our three-year-old Organizing Dept., we aim to “engage, educate, empower.” Those three words sum up our union’s philosophy.

About two years ago, the dozens of reps who work for DC 37 embarked on an ambitious plan.

The union dispatched the union employees to the city’s five boroughs to conduct one-on-one meetings with 50,000 members and to sign up thousands of agency-fee payers, workers who pay dues for services but haven’t joined the union.

We asked members to renew their support for the union by signing new membership cards. Today, 95 percent our membership has signed on.

We have several other achievements that are making us stronger and more productive.

Our reps and organizers are now equipped with tablets. This allows them to sign up members electronically and input information about workplace concerns and grievances.

These tablets store contracts for reference and have benefit forms that can be downloaded for members. The devices are part of a plan to improve the use of digital technology at the union.

We have established Member Action Teams at 50 worksites. We’re building up a shop stewards network of 5,000 members.

Volunteer Member Organizers — an army of retirees — visit worksites and turn out for labor events, such as demonstration and press conferences. The Dept. of Political Action and Legislation has its own volunteer activists who work on voter registration and political campaigns.

Over the past three years, our membership has grown by 10,000 as DC 37 has negotiated with the city over representing municipal employees misclassified as managers. The union’s staff is more accountable.

In a way, what’s going on at DC 37 reflects what’s happening around the country. We are seeing a revival of the labor movement.

We are inspired by the recent wave of teachers strikes in America’s heartland. Our children’s educators are fighting back as workers have faced nearly a half century of conservative public policies and corporate attacks.

This has caused a dwindling of traditional pensions, wage stagnation, reduced government services, weakened unions and a shift of health-care costs to workers.

As we rebuild our union, we are part of a resistance movement mobilizing to derail a long-term reprehensible plot of a tiny but politically powerful elite to accumulate wealth as they lower the living standards of workers.

We need stronger unions to stop these attacks, defend our jobs and protect the future of our children and grandchildren. At DC 37, we are working toward that goal.

Join us.

Barbara Terrelonge is director of the DC 37 Organizing Dept.

The DC 37 Blog is an online publication of District Council 37, AFSCME, which represents 125,000 municipal employees in New York City. This article originally appeared in the July-August 2018 issue of Public Employee Press.

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