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March 2018


Organizing: The FA's future
Cynthia Eaton


  Dante Morelli speaks during 3/3 organizing institute
FA Grievance Officer Dante Morelli, right, led a conversation about member-to-member organizing during the FA's organizing institute on 3/3. (photo by Kevin Peterman)

For too long, unions have mistaken access for power. They need to get back to organizing and activating members.

For too long, unions have given up on the goal of altering the power structure in favor of winning campaigns within the power structure.

These quotes show that labor scholar and union organizer Jane McAlevey takes a no-holds-barred approach in her argument for what the labor movement must do to save unions in America.

In a word: organizing.

In two words: deep organizing.

This is why the FA held an organizing institute on 3/3 with a focus on our past, present, and future. With the Janus decision pending, the college facing significant financial concerns and our FA contract expiring in 2019, there's never been a more critical time to engage in genuine deep organizing in the FA.

3/21 organizing institute  
The FA will host its second organizing institute on Wednesday, March 21, 3:30 to 6 pm, in the Montauk Point Room (Babylon Student Center, Ammerman Campus).

The 3/3 meeting—attended by over two dozen members—was just the start: our next organizing institute is on Wednesday, 3/21, from 3:30 to 6 pm, in the Montauk Point Room (Babylon Student Center, Ammerman Campus).

And there will be more after that.

Three models of unionism

McAlevey characterizes three types of labor unions in her 2016 book No Shortcuts: Organizing for Power in the New Gilded Age:

  • The advocacy model involves paid professional staff representing the workers legally, financially, politically. This model allows the members to go about their jobs but doesn't connect them to the union except perhaps to recognize that they're paying dues to other people to represent their interests. Others refer to this as the insurance model: members see the union as a kind of insurance company to which they pay money "just in case" then hope they don't ever need to use the coverage.

  • The mobilizing model relies on the union leadership or paid staff doing most of the work: solving problems, making decisions, providing the leadership. Mobilizing leaders do bring members into the fight, but typically only the already committed activists. In the mobilizing model, leaders reach out to members periodically, when they need a group of members to take some specific action. The members, according to McAlevey, then just become "symbolic actors in their own liberation."

  • Organizing is the ideal model for McAlevey, in which the everyday, rank-and-file members of the union truly see themselves as the union. Members are the key agents of change: organizing "places the agency for success with ...ordinary people who help make the power analysis, design the strategy, and achieve the outcome. They are essential and they know it." By identifying organic leaders within the membership, the organizing model union expands its power because it understands that its power is a fully engaged membership.
  Joan Wozniak and Misty Curreli
Organizing institute participants shared ideas about keeping FA members engaged. In background, from left, Kim Ng Southard (English) paired up with Kevin McNamara (Business), while in foreground Joan Wozniak (Media Services) talked with Misty Curreli (Sociology). (photo by Kevin Peterman)

Learning about Janus

A commitment to an organizing model means talking directly with members. Thus, during the 3/3 organizing institute, members learned about the Janus v. AFSCME Council 31 Supreme Court case that's currently being decided, then talked at length about what to do about Janus.

As we've discussed previously in The WORD, this case is about whether agency-fee payers should be required to pay the agency fee.

In the 1977 Abood decision, the Supreme Court determined that even if an individual chooses not to join the union, they still benefit from the union's work (increased wages, benefits, retirement security, etc.), so requiring those non-members to pay an agency fee was deemed appropriate and legal. The FA refers to these few workers as agency-fee payers.

It's important to note too that Abood also decided that non-members could not be forced to pay for the political activism of the union, which is why the FA only uses voluntary donations to its VOTE/COPE fund for political activities.

The Janus case aims to overturn Abood, on the argument that all union activity is inherently political. The union's position is that since all workers benefit from the union's gains, all the workers should pay fair dues; nobody gets to be a "free rider." You can see what AFSCME has to say about the Janus case here.

Understanding the impact

Let's be clear: Any adverse decision in Janus threatens to overturn Abood and thus weaken the FA's ability to continue providing the bargaining power, legal representation and benefits that our members have enjoyed for decades.

For example, the 3/3 organizing institute participants examined a case study of a local in Wisconsin that shows the devastating impact on their contract by comparing what the contract looked like when Wisconsin was union strong and after Wisconsin became a right-to-work state. The contract went from a 90-page document—detailing provisions about assignment and workload, salaries, benefits, dismissal, tenure, absences, evaluation, grievances and more—to a one-page document establishing "wages."

Many Wisconsin locals saw an immediate, devastating impact on their contracts after the state became right to work, which is essentially what's being sought in Janus on the federal level.

Staying strong

The FA has no intention of being devastated. We know that cannot happen—and that's precisely because our members are strong, smart and commited to keeping the FA as healthy, active and member focused as it can be.

We know that our members understand what's really behind the Janus case.

We know that our members will stick with our union.

We know that our members will find their own power and take the FA well into its future.

How do we know these things? Consider just a sampling of the voices of participants from our 3/3 organizing institute.

Join the energetic team that took our 3/3 meeting by storm—you can read some of their voices in the "Members speak out: Why I'm sticking with the union" article in this issue—by attending our second organizing institute on 3/21: contact Anita to RSVP by phone (631-451-4151) or email (

Our future depends on seizing this moment to get organized and stay organized.