The AFT Pride of the Union awards have for decades recognized local affiliates that make significant membership growth. This year, in the wake of the Supreme Court’s anti-union ruling last month in Janus v. AFSCME, the AFT has added a new category—“recommits”—honoring our locals that already have obtained pledges or signed commitments from 100 percent of current members to renew their membership. Other awardees qualify by posting net membership increases of at least 100 members, or 25 percent, in one of the past two years. The program also honors affiliates with membership levels of at least 90 percent.
Our internal growth is an important reason why the AFT continues to be one of the nation’s largest and fastest-growing unions. Since our last convention two years ago, the AFT’s total membership has grown from 1.6 million to 1.7 million members. In these two years alone, we have gained 117,000 new members; have chartered 38 new locals in 14 states, organized 94 new units in 18 states, and have the potential to add more than 52,000 members in these new units.
This year, 275 local and state affiliates applied for Pride of the Union awards, and many attended a reception Thursday afternoon to receive their awards in person. After acknowledgments that all three national officers had joined the reception to celebrate these locals, AFT President Randi Weingarten spoke to the group. She described the early days of the award, when former United Federation of Teachers President Sandra Feldman, who later became the AFT’s national president, received many awards but kept her Pride of the Union awards prominently displayed at the UFT’s New York City offices.
Asked why she valued this award so highly, Feldman explained that it celebrated the core purpose of a union: building the capacity of members as activists.
“What I’ve come to realize after all these years,” Weingarten told the winners, “is that what you have done, and what every Pride of the Union winner has done, is understand that the locals belong to their members. This is the work of creating engagement. This is the work of creating trust. It’s envisioning power and what to do with it. It’s what every single union has to do now—but you have already done it. Others are now training for that marathon.”
The AFT is one of the few unions in the U.S. whose membership numbers keep going up, Weingarten noted. In fact, we have more members today than ever before in our 102-year history. That comes from the hard work of member engagement, she said, telling attendees she’s proud of them.
“It’s not just our wages, our benefits, our pensions that are on the line” after the Janus decision, Weingarten said. “It’s our democracy. When we know that failure is not an option, we rise to the occasion. We radiate engagement and involvement. I have this belief that’s been reconfirmed every day after Janus: When we act together, when we do things together in solidarity, we accomplish things that none of us can do alone. We are here because we are 24/7 fighting, caring and showing up. And for that I want to say thank you.”
[Annette Licitra/photo by Michael Campbell]