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CWA District 4

Organizing the Non-Union

How CWA 4501 converted their non-union freeloaders into full-fledged union members to fight back against Right-to-Work

Kris LaGrange's picture
Oct 10, 2017

Attacks on unions are coming from both state houses and the courts. UCOMM has previously reported about how the Supreme Court will hear the Janus case in the coming months, most likely ruling that public-sector unions can no longer charge fair share fees. UCOMM has also reported about the states that have been passing Right-to-Work legislation on both public and private sector unions. While many unions have begun to take action to prevent the loss of their workplace voice, one local in Ohio stands out for the great work they are doing.

Communications Workers of America Local 4501 represents public workers at Ohio State University; in Lima, Mansfield, Newark and Marion, Ohio; the Ohio Secretary of State's Office; Pickaway County Jobs and Family Services; Franklin County Veterans' Commission, and other agencies. In total, they represent 2,200 employees and in 2014 had about 500 agency fee payers. These 500 employees represented about 25% of the bargaining unit. While the agency fee employees are covered under the collective bargaining agreement, they are not members of the union, instead only paying a fee to cover the cost of the union representing them during bargaining.

In 2014, Local 4501 saw the writing on the wall. Only three years earlier, they had helped beat back Right-to-Work after the state legislature passed it. It was only thanks to unions organizing voters to oppose Right-to-Work that it was defeated in a ballot initiative. At the same time Friedrichs, the predecessor to Janus, was making its way through the courts.

Local President Kevin Kee teamed up with other CWA locals to start a one-week organizing blitz at the beginning of October. The blitz was dedicated to reducing the number of agency fee payers and turn them into full members. In just that first week of house calls and onsite visits, the union recruited 158 new members.  

Over the last few years, Local 4501 has kept the organizing going, periodically holding new organizing blitzes.  With Janus set to be heard by the Supreme Court and a new school year starting at Ohio State University, the local held a six-week organizing blitz, signing up another 167 members.

“We've learned that it's important to highlight what we're doing if we've won a member benefit or made other gains, or when we're bargaining a new contract and know that the way to build strength at the bargaining table is by building strength in our numbers,” Kee said. “That way, agency fee payers, and non-members see what the union is doing. They recognize the value and say they need to sign up.”

Local 4501 realized that if they are going to survive they needed to get out of the office and shore up their membership. While it may seem counterintuitive to organize the employees who decided not to join the union, the Local had a simple reason for doing it. “Sometimes, a university worker or county worker hasn’t signed up just due to the fact that no one has reached out to them,” Kee said. “That's all changed now.”

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