“This union was built on people talking face to face,” UFT President Michael Mulgrew told the Delegate Assembly. And now, he said, these same in-person exchanges are needed to protect the UFT from one of the biggest challenges in its 57-year history: the ramifications of the Janus v. AFSCME case set to go before the U.S. Supreme Court.
Mulgrew announced at the Oct. 18 meeting in Shanker Hall that the union would embark on an ambitious door-knocking campaign with the goal of discussing the Janus threat in person with every UFT member.
“We can run ads, do social media or send letters and emails, and we will,” Mulgrew said. “But the best way to get everyone to understand what’s at stake is through face-to-face conversations.”
The Janus case challenges the “fair-share” or agency fees that public sector unions collect from workers who do not join the union but nevertheless benefit from a union-negotiated contract and union services. These fees cover the costs a union incurs representing and providing services for these workers. The Supreme Court is expected to issue a ruling in the case by June.
With the court’s conservative majority again secure following President Donald Trump’s appointment of Justice Neil Gorsuch to replace the late Antonin Scalia, it appears “we are going to take a brutal loss and this is going to be a ‘right-to-work’ country for public sector workers,” Mulgrew said.
In right-to-work states, unions are weaker and all the indices of social and economic well-being are less favorable.
“Our enemies will tell our members: ‘Want to give yourself a raise? Stop paying union dues.’ The plan is to weaken unions to the point that workers lose out,” Mulgrew said. “They want to be able to beat the union and take your rights and protections from you. As the largest union local in the country, we are going to be targeted.”
Mulgrew urged delegates to join the team of door-knockers who will visit members’ homes. The union plans to train members and pay a stipend. The goal, he added, was to visit the homes of all 120,000 in-service DOE-employed members by the spring.
If members aren’t home, a door hanger with information will be left on their doorknobs.
“We want to have honest conversations with the members of this union,” Mulgrew said. “Just our Welfare Fund benefits alone are more than worth what we pay in dues.”
The campaign is based on one undertaken during the summer by New York State United Teachers, the UFT’s state affiliate. A team of 50 NYSUT members visited 35,000 homes and engaged in 9,000 conversations.
“They were able to engage the members, but also hear from them,” UFT Staff Director LeRoy Barr said. “We need you to step up and help us get it done. We need to make sure the UFT comes through this fight stronger than it is today.”