Ever Wondered What it's Like to be an AFSCME Member Organizer?

My name is David Xai Yang. I am your union brother, Local 34’s recording secretary, and a Hennepin County Child Protection Social Worker. I want to share my recent experience of taking a leave of absence from my job and going on lost-time as a political member organizer at our union, AFSCME Council 5.

I had a lot of fear leaving my job for about six months because of my love of working with my clients and how this absence would affect them. Thankfully, my fellow union members and my partner encouraged me to take advantage of this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, and I am forever grateful that I did.

The program that our Council ran this summer and fall is one that other councils are going to emulate because of its effectiveness.

While I was on leave, I had two roles. The first was as a member organizer. Teams of three to five of us would go to AFSCME members’ work sites – libraries, waste management facilities, county offices, the Minnesota Zoo and many more. We talked to workers about how they feel about the union, the issues they’re concerned about, contract negotiations and what we as a union can do. Our goal was to build stronger relationships with our fellow members, encourage non-members to join, and get workers more active in our union.

I met countless members who knew they were part of the union but didn’t understand the importance of being represented by a union. I explained to members and non-members alike that being part of a union includes benefits of:

  • Collective bargaining
  • Workplace safety
  • Higher wages
  • A voice at work
  • Job security
  • Rewards and benefits
  • Strength in numbers
  • Equality

I felt a sense of accomplishment conveying these benefits to everyone, but there were some difficulties as well. One example is the recent Janus v. AFSCME Supreme Court ruling that affected unions’ ability to collect agency fees.

By law, our union is required to provide representational services to everyone covered by a contract – even if they’ve elected not to join. Before the ruling, workers could choose whether or not to join the union, but they still had to pay agency fees to cover the cost of representation and contract negotiations (by law, agency fees cannot be used for political activities by the union – members may choose to contribute to our political activities by joining PEOPLE and making additional financial contributions to a separate fund). Now, because of Janus, workers covered by a union contract can choose to pay nothing, but still receive the raises, benefits and retirement security that we negotiate as a union.

Some of the workers I talked to were perfectly content about not paying for their union representation, but we still talked to them about the benefits of being an AFSCME member. We sought out and met all kinds of members and non-members to discuss the Supreme Court ruling, the power of working together, and the importance of joining or recommitting to our union.

As member organizers, we had a chance to hear about the injustices and unfair treatment facing some of our fellow AFSCME members, and connect them to Council 5 staff to resolve the issues. We were able to develop relationships with the workers and really show them the value of having union representation.

The second part of my role was political organizing, knocking doors for our endorsed candidates for Governor, the Minnesota House of Representatives and county and city candidates. We door-knocked in the heart of the humid summer all the way into the other extremes of Minnesota cold.

One of the most exciting things about this role was getting to meet candidates and elected officials. My most memorable experience was attending the Humphrey Mondale Dinner, where I had the chance to shake hands with New Jersey U.S. Senator Cory Booker, U.S. Senator Amy Klobuchar, and U.S. Senator Tina Smith. This is an experience that I will never forget.

We had teams of member organizers in Duluth, St. Cloud, St. Paul and Bemidji doing this same work, and it paid off.

Our candidates for Governor, Lt. Governor, State Auditor, Attorney General and U.S. Senate all won their races, and we won a Democratic majority in the Minnesota House. The victories were especially strong in the regions where our teams had been working. It was a statewide effort that we hope to expand with more members in the future.

Here in Minnesota, union busters won’t be able to wage the kind of war on workers we’ve seen in Wisconsin and Iowa, because we flipped the House and elected leaders we know we can count on to protect and expand our rights, not the other way around.

I am going to remember this for the rest of my life because it was an important rebuke of the current 45th President. I played a role in limiting the President’s power and positively affecting our state government. This is an experience that I will forever cherish.

My lost-time experience further enhanced and strengthened my love for being part of our union. I’ll only work union from now on. I want to encourage everyone who doesn’t know much about the union or is looking for change, to consider participating in our member organizing program.

Sincerely, David Xai Yang