January-February 2018 Issue
December 17, 2017

When the union knocks, open the door to your sisters and brothers

Author: Ned Hoskin
Source: NYSUT United
union value

Only one thing sustains a union: solidarity. Solidarity is unity of purpose based on common interests, objectives, standards and sympathies. It binds people together as one. And there’s only one way to measure it: One member at a time.

Are you in?

Since last spring, with anti-union storm clouds darkening the skies, NYSUT has intensified efforts to organize our membership. Local leaders and members are engaged in campaigns to illuminate the value of the union. If you haven’t seen their smiling faces yet, you will soon.

The door-knocking campaign known as the Member Organizing Institute sends members to visit members at home. NYSUT’s Oneto- One project (1-2-1) reaches local union members in the workplace. Both make personal connections and develop strong relationships. It’s union work!

“This was probably the best experience I’ve had as the president of my union,” said John Mannion, who leads the West Genesee Teachers Association, near Syracuse.

union value
From left, member organizer Anthony Patricola, Hempstead Classroom TA; Marilyn Case, Cohoes TA; organizer LaDank Boley, American Federation of Teachers; and member organizer Marissa Mims, Syracuse TA. Photo provided.

The MOI saw grassroots members knock on more than 48,000 doors last summer and fall, reaching out to more than 12 percent of NYSUT’s in-service members. The effort helped defeat the ConCon referendum in November, flipping public opinion to protect retirement security, public education and bargaining rights.

Mannion participated in both campaigns. In the 1-2-1, his union reached its entire membership this year, gaining new signatures and new commitments to support the union.

In the MOI, he was buoyed by the spirit of his members and those from other area locals, encouraged by “how much they appreciated seeing a union member at their door. … Once the word NYSUT came out of my mouth and we had a chance to have a conversation, they were very appreciative.”

In light of constitutional and legislative threats to the rights of working Americans, this will continue to be the No. 1 focus of the labor movement, said NYSUT President Andy Pallotta.

“We want members to have the opportunity to say: ‘I’m sticking with the union!’” Pallotta said. “This is where our voice is, where our power is, where we win fair compensation and improved working conditions. … Solidarity is our central pillar. We’re asking every NYSUT member to commit to his or her association and sign a new union card,” he said.

Dave Michalak, president of the SUNY Broome Faculty Association, said the local has been organizing and listening to its community college members for more than two years. In one-on-ones, colleagues say they are most concerned about “the consequences [of] losing our union,” he said, and bargaining protections. “Unions are the last bastion of hope for all workers in this country.”

Janus on the horizon

This year, the U.S. Supreme Court will hear Janus v. AFSCME. The case questions the decades-old precedent that if you are represented by a union, it is fair and reasonable to expect you to pay a fair share to the union for protecting your rights and your future.

Recent polling showed that one out of five union members would drop their membership if they were not required to pay dues. But the survey also found that two out of three of those people would change their mind if they thought it would weaken their union’s ability to fight for them. Face to face, members share the intrinsic value of sticking together.

“The best predictor of membership loss or retention is whether you have had a one-to-one conversation with every member,” Pallotta said. “It is a new style of unionism, and this can never end. As the song says, we’re ‘sticking to the union, until the day I die.’