04/30/2018

Alaska activists launch member engagement drive

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From many hundreds of door knocks to almost 50 worksite meetings, member activists set out to engage other AFT members earlier this month in and around Anchorage, Alaska. Altogether, about 40 participants—activists from the state’s AFT affiliates and volunteers from the lower 48 states—met with nearly 500 members for one-on-one conversations about their most urgent issues, including healthcare coverage and contract negotiations.

APEA group

After the visits, activists mapped and charted strategies for following up with members over the next 18 months. Some of their plans include using new digital tools implemented by the Alaska Public Employees Association to stay in closer touch with far-flung and often isolated workers across a state notable for its harsh winters and rugged terrain.

A main focus of the mobilization April 7-14 was to support members of the APEA’s Supervisors Union as they negotiate a new contract. During the blitz, the SU negotiating team held two mediation sessions with the state, and the negotiators said they greatly appreciated the support and urgency supplied by fellow Alaskans.

During the kickoff on a Sunday morning, AFT Executive Vice President Mary Cathryn Ricker (pictured below) pumped up the volunteers with words of inspiration and encouragement. She also met with Alaska Nurses Association President Donna Phillips, APEA President Cecily Hodges and APEA-SU President John White.

Mary Cathryn Ricker at APEA

“No longer will we allow our opponents to criticize us as nameless and faceless entities,” Ricker told the group, firing up the activists before they went out rallying and canvassing. “We will be seen, and we will be heard.”

Part of the mobilization included training activists in the most effective ways to hold conversations with members and to identify potential new leaders. They also learned such organizing techniques as asking members to sign commitment cards and precipitating a Twitter storm.

Alaska’s mobilization comes on the heels of other successful member engagement trainings at AFT affiliates, notably in Connecticut and New York, as they gear up for a likely negative decision from the U.S. Supreme Court in Janus v. AFSCME, a case that could strip away unions’ collective bargaining rights and create a so-called right-to-work environment nationwide.

Both the Alaska activists and volunteers from around the country threw themselves into the mobilization training and came away with big ideas.

Charting with APEA participants

Shelly Showalter, an SU member from Fairbanks, called the week “amazing” and said she can’t wait to apply her new knowledge and skills.

“I’ve never worked harder. I’ve never cared more. I have never believed more completely in a group of people,” said Alisha Blake, a nurse from Connecticut. “We came from everywhere. We left our jobs and our families to show our Alaskan brothers and sisters that we were there for them without condition and that we would work hard for them. We are leaders in the resistance against the attacks on the working class, and we’re doing it with a truth and a power unlike any I’ve ever known.”

[Annette Licitra, Jenn Porcari]