October 25, 2021
The Biden administration has directed federal agencies to take concrete steps to help bolster union membership in the federal government.
Soon after Veterans Affairs Secretary Robert Wilkie proposed gutting the labor contract covering 260,000 employees we represent across the VA, Local 1862 sprang into action.
Part of the sham contract would cancel AFGE members’ payroll dues deduction every year and require employees to complete a lengthy and intimidating form to remain in the union. Local 1862 knew what it had to do: declare independence from the government-controlled dues deduction system and switch its members to AFGE E-Dues.
In just a few months, the local – which has 320 members spread across the VA hospital and five outpatient clinics in Altoona, Pa. – has moved a whopping 39% of its membership to AFGE E-Dues. And the number goes up every day.
How did they do it?
“It’s a team effort,” said Local President Andrew Scherzinger. “I’m the president, but I give all credit to my secretary-treasurer [Danielle Neely]. But we all do our part in it.”
By that he means constantly educating members about the threat of being kicked out of the union and, with the hostile contract proposal from the VA, the threat of not having a union at all.
“What if the union isn’t there? That’s starting to sink in,” Scherzinger said of how members are appalled by the VA’s contract proposal, which seeks to gut their workplace rights and protections.
In June, the local held a rally about the hostile contract and the need to switch to E-Dues. The local put out an email blast, reiterating the need to leave the government-controlled dues deduction system. Membership then voted to have everyone switch to E-Dues within a year and sign up new members through E-Dues only.
To help speed up the process, the local asked its national organizer, Chrystal Killman-Johnson, to come over every other week to hold week-long events to switch members and answer any questions they may have about the new system. They also talk to new employees about E-Dues during new employee orientations.
Scherzinger said members understood why they had to switch, and so their only question was how to do it. After being guided by the local, members found the process to be easy, taking only minutes.
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