This May (2023), AFGE added the most members in one month to our union in eight years and recruited the most members of any May in over a decade. It also marked eight months of consecutive growth for our union. Not only is that a good sign for the overall strength of our union, it’s yet another high point in an incredibly strong year of organizing and recruitment for our union.
These positive growth trends didn’t happen by accident. They were the results of the dedication of all of our union family at AFGE to strengthening our movement.
According to Dave Cann, national director of membership and organization for AFGE, one of the main drivers for our increasingly strong recruitment and member retention has been a focus on the empowerment of federal staff members.
“We’re talking to them about the opportunity to have a voiceon the job and make material improvements in their working conditions, which is different than just asking people to join so they can be represented if they get in trouble or collect our wonderful benefits,” said Cann. “People are joining to be empowered.”
Cann cites the more than 5,000 new members that have been added this year alone as clear evidence that a focus on empowering employees has been a successful one. Encouraging potential members not only to pay their union dues but also to exercise their voice both in their workplace and in their local has activated potential members who otherwise may not have joined a union.
“We’re getting people that care. We’re getting people that are showing up to have a voice. So every time we engage in an action, every time we have an ask, every time we try to do something, we’re getting a higher percentage of people that are involved,” said Cann. “If you get someone to join because they want to have a voice, that is an enduring need. Your attention is going to be higher, and as a result, you’re going to have a higher quality union.”
Don Edge, president of Local 3511, and Rena Youngblood, executive vice president for Local 3511, have seen their local’s numbers increase through a focus on the personal aspects of organizing. Local 3511 represents Veterans Affairs workers in the San Antonio and South Texas areas, as well as VA workers in the Rio Grande area and at an area national cemetery.
One of the main aspects of their growth has been building personal connections with their employees to fight back against anti-union talking points and to show that our strength comes from our relationships with our fellow workers.
“Well, I give them real-life scenarios. I tell them about the things and the adversities that I had to go through personally,” said Edge. “We share with them that unions are the reasons you get weekend pay, you get night differential, (and) safety comes in. We’re worried about you having PPE, all of those things. The agency just doesn’t pop up and give you these things.”
AFGE Local 3511 President Don Edge, credits his fellow union members and building strong relationships for his local’s growth.
Rena Youngblood works to build connections with potential members and implement new organizing strategies that have led to growth.
“Well, usually when I do a lot of the face-to-face, I find that a lot of them are just either misinformed or there is lack of information about what the union actually does for them,” said Youngblood. “And once I explain to them what we actually do, not only locally, but up in DC, then they get a bigger picture of what the union truly does for them.”
One of the most notable practices she’s brought to Local 3511’s organizing processes has been exit interviews with members who are considering leaving the union.
“It truly helps because then they actually see that we care about the reason why they’re exiting. I always let them know whether you decide to leave or not, we always want to improve our process. There’s always room for improvement. And nine out of 10 times, they give us the opportunity to fix things,” said Youngblood.
By focusing on meeting potential union members where they are, Local 3511 has seen significant growth.
“Rena is really good for being able to take the pulse of where we are in organizing,” Edge said. “When she took over organizing, we were at 1,000 members. I remember she went out and bought a banner, and we put it across our bulletin board that we had 1,000 members. We were so proud of that. But she wasn’t satisfied. I mean, just this morning we’re at 3,503 members. That’s a 2,500-member growth. And I put credit where credit is due.”
Hydrick Thomas is president of AFGE Local 2222 and AFGE Council 100, which represents 44,000 employees at the Transportation Security Administration. Thomas has been with his local since TSA was first granted the right to organize in 2008. Since then, TSA employees have seen a drastic expansion of their rights on the job, thanks to the efforts of AFGE.
“We’ve constantly been growing based on having positive conversations about the union rights and what unions do for membership,” said Thomas.
AFGE Local 2222 originally started with roughly 750 members and now represents roughly 3,000 members out of a workforce of 4,900 at 19 airports across New York and New Jersey.
Thomas credits his local’s growth to a dedicated focus on constant contact and engagement with existing members and potential members. Due to the nature of the work, they do, TSA is a shift-based workforce, which means that the union must be flexible and ready to talk to members whenever input is needed and to be present at every New Employee Orientation, no matter the time.
“You have to engage yourself daily with the employees from the president down to the last rep that’s in your local. You have to be verbally engaged with every member and every employee that’s in TSA. We do a lot of moving around. We don’t rest,” said Thomas.