This Local Moved Out of the VA 2 Years Ago – And They’re Still Going Strong!

Categories: The Insider

In October 2017 – months before President Trump issued an executive order evicting unions from federal facilities – Local 2779 moved itself out of the Veterans Affairs hospital in Gainesville, Florida. The reason? To secure the union office from the prying eyes and ears of managers who regularly entered uninvited, moved their space next to HR, and even set up a surveillance camera right in front of the union office.

The local filed an unfair labor practice charge but also thought it was best to just move out and get a secure space and non-governmental email account. Turns out, it was the best decision. Months later, Trump, in an outright union-busting move , directed agencies to either remove unions from federal facilities or charge them for rent.

“We were moving offsite to where we can go and put records and work without management’s prying eyes,” said Local President Muriel Newman, whose local represents 4,000 employees working at most VA facilities in the Northern Florida/South Georgia Veterans Health System.

The local’s experience of having an offsite union office has been positive. Now that the Trump administration has ramped up its anti-union efforts, more and more AFGE locals are adapting and moving out. The administration wants to chip away at employees’ workplace rights, but Local 2779 and others found a way to make sure they stay in contact with their members and that employees know how to reach out to get representation.

“None of this would be necessary if it weren’t for the administration’s outright union-busting, but the history of the labor movement is that workers always find a way. That’s just what Local 2779 did and what AFGE locals across this country are doing right now. We’re going to be a bigger, better and stronger union for it,” said AFGE National Secretary-Treasurer Everett Kelley.

How Local 2779 did it

It took Muriel about two weeks to find the right office in the right location. She simply Googled office space for rent in her area and found a two-office suite near a big VA clinic for $480 per month, utilities included. Then, their Central Labor Council moved in the same building, allowing them to network and work together on labor issues, including impromptu rallies.

According to Muriel, members are more relaxed when they visit the union office as they are not being watched. To make sure members have access to union help, her local has union reps in AFGE shirts present at facilities. They have people in the cafeteria, for example. The local also requests the use of a conference room. Knowing the employees have the right to see their union reps, the VA obliges.

Muriel’s Tips on Getting the Right Office Offsite

  1. Do your research on the Internet and visit the place before you call them. Make sure you go there at night and weekends to make sure it’s safe as it’s likely you’ll be the last person to leave the office at night.
  2. Get all the important information, like whether the rent includes utilities and cleaning, whether the bathroom is accessible for people with disabilities, etc.
  3. If you need furniture, check out used school furniture from your county school warehouse or organizations like the Salvation Army.
  4. Get insurance for your office just in case people get injured while visiting your office.
  5. Make sure your landlord is not anti-union.

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