AFGE Local 3448 President Michael Murphey is building a culture of union activism. Representing Social Security field offices and Teleservice Centers throughout Ohio, Murphey has made it his mission to shake the hands of every member (and potential member) he represents.
His personal approach has been so successful that he has organized nearly 100 percent of the SSA employees he represents in just a few years.
"I come from five generations of union people," said Murphey. "My mother was a union rep for the phone company. It's all I know."
"When I saw the Holman Rule come into place, I anticipated them coming after federal employees. Politically, I knew we were in a jam," he said, referencing a legislative rule from the 1870s that the House of Representatives reinstated in January 2017. The rule allows any House lawmaker to single out one or more civil servants whom the lawmaker disagrees with, and end their careers by proposing to eliminate their positions or reduce their pay.
Rep. Gerry Connolly (Va.-11) has called the Holman rule "a backdoor way ... to dismantle the federal workforce."
"I wasn't the best at organizing," admits Murphey. "Everyone else was better at signing people up. Then [AFGE National Organizer] Jeremy Lannan showed me some tricks."
"I take a very simple approach," explains Murphey. "I just walk up to people and say 'Hey, I'm your new local president and I'm just asking you to give me a shot.'"
In the age of social media and email, it's often taken for granted that face-to-face organizing is still the most successful way to recruit new members. But to Murphey, it's not just about having more union members – it's about the survival of his community.
"I've watched Youngstown fall apart since 1977. Those jobs are not coming back. My father and great-grandfather worked in the mill and would come home and work on the farm. We don't have that now," said Murphey. "People in these rural areas have nothing. We don't have mining. We don't have farming. We can't even work our own land."
AFGE National Organizer Jeremy Lannan believes that with a little planning, any local can replicate Murphey's success — all they need to do is sit down and come up with a plan.
"Michael and I put together a weekly schedule and for one week we will go to a centralized area in Ohio and tag team — visiting as many offices as we can," said Lannan. "Michael has done a good job of balancing his role as an SSA employee and local president."
"The most important thing to remember is that every local president can have the support that Michael has," Lannan added. "Just reach out to your national organizer or district office and be willing to commit."
Lannon said the local's members are the most important asset of any successful organizing campaign. Face-to-face conversations from those who know the realities of working facilities are critical to showing the power of being part of the union.
And that's the main reason Murphey has been so committed to the movement.
"Middle-class jobs before were heavy lifting, industrial jobs and now those are gone," said Murphey. "So what's left? Federal service positions seem to be the last of the middle-class jobs."
"But Social Security and our way of life has been under attack for a while. There is much concern about the Page Act and the Trump budget and how that will impact SSA."
"It's clear where this is going. Why are we sitting on our hands?"