As AFGE Racks Up Wins Under Biden, New Members Eager to Join

Categories: The Insider, Organizing

AFGE Local 1224 representing 3,300 employees at Veterans Affairs hospital and clinics in Las Vegas is one of the best performing locals in the federation when it comes to organizing. It managed to organize 516 new members under a hostile administration in 2019 with a net gain of 176. 

But according to Local President Linda Ward Smith, the local didn’t even have an organizing goal under the previous administration. Things were so bad it was operating on survival mode. With a friendlier administration, however, the mood has completely changed. The local has now set a recruiting goal of 20 new members a month and is on track to surpass it.  

“It was troubling times for me. I was trying to keep my head above water as best I could,” she said. “Now I can breathe a sigh of relief. I’m mentally focusing on organizing and retaining my members. We signed up 30 people last month and will probably do 30 this month. So we are more focused again I think.”   

Employees noticed the change too. With repeated attacks on their union rights by the previous administration, workers were sometimes scared to join the union. With AFGE’s big wins in getting Biden to sign executive orders in his first days in office restoring their workplace rights, feds are more eager to join the 1,850 members-strong local now.  

“I have members coming to me wanting to join because they feel like the union can protect them again,” Ward Smith explained. “They saw our struggles under the previous administration and felt we couldn’t help them. With our big wins, it’s like they’ve come back to life and are energized.”  

Local 1924 representing U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) in the Washington, D.C. area is equally energized. Michael Knowles, the local president, learned that with the previous administration’s attack on the federal workforce and unions the past four years, it was hard to run a local, let alone a big one.   

Employee morale was at an all-time low and people were afraid to voice dissent. Even though the local did not lose its office, severe restrictions were placed on the amount of time union representatives could use. This forced Knowles and the Local 1924 team to use lots of personal leave and off-duty time to help members with their workplace issues.  

Despite these challenges, Local 1924 persisted -- always organizing around issues that employees really care about. Last year when USCIS employees faced massive furloughs, the local seized the opportunity to recruit and mobilize members. Its weekly Happy Hour on Zoom attracted 100-300 people eager to hear the latest news about issues that were going to directly affect their lives. As a result, many members and their families felt empowered to join and support AFGE's successful campaign to defeat the furlough and save their jobs.  

This year, Knowles is more optimistic than ever about the opportunity to build a stronger, more effective union.   

“The new administration's support for federal workers and organized labor has renewed hope in our workforce, and we believe they will become more active in the union now, without fear of retaliation,” Knowles said. “With this renewed hope, employees see the union as their voice and their vehicle for helping our country to ‘build back better.’"    

With a friendlier administration, Local 1924 didn’t waste any time in setting a new goal. It wants to recruit 400 more members in the next 12 months. The local currently has about 750 members.   

“I am optimistic because the previous administration's attacks on federal employees and their unions opened the eyes of many people as to why they needed the union to protect their rights,” Knowles explained. “They saw how Local 1924 did that -- especially our public opposition to the previous administration's harmful policies towards refugees and legal immigrants, and our effective advocacy for USCIS employees who were threatened by catastrophic furlough in the midst of the pandemic.”  


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