Matt Emigholz drove 1,000 miles to sign up union members
Matt Emigholz wasn’t always an activist, but he’s glad that he’s one now. “This whole union thing wasn’t new to me; I was in a union before, but I wasn’t active,” says Emigholz, a mechanic for the Illinois Department of Transportation and area vice president of the Illinois Federation of Public Employees. His activism began with AFT mobilization training. “It pushed me to get involved,” he says. The anti-union actions of Illinois Gov. Bruce Rauner drove Emigholz to go even further. “I started paying attention when the new governor began making moves to harm union members, like supporting right-to-work legislation. I knew there was no one to help our members understand what fair share and ‘right to work’ are doing to union membership, so I had to do something.”
And he did. Emigholz pulled out a map of Illinois and plotted out the locations of each of the 26 facilities throughout the state where his local had members. Then he hit the road with the intention to speak to every one of them. That was in the spring; since then, Emigholz says he’s put at least 1,000 miles on his car and used most of his personal and vacation time to conduct this outreach to members.
Emigholz spent his days driving to facilities and talking with members on their lunch breaks. Some allowed him to make home visits. “I did whatever I needed to do to get the job done.”
The effort has been more than successful, says Emigholz. He notes that at least 50 of his 180 members didn’t have full union membership, but the one-on-one conversations persuaded most of them to sign up as full members. “Many of the people I spoke with thought they were members already,” he says, adding that “a lot of people have become stewards and activists based on the face-to-face meetings.”
Not all of these personal encounters were a success, Emigholz concedes. “My very first one-on-one conversation didn’t pan out. The member just wouldn’t sign the card,” he says. In spite of that, Emigholz found that each member visit got a little easier. “I don’t talk to people, I work on trucks. That’s why I know if I can do this, anyone can.”