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AFT Massachusetts Member Organizers Are Building Union Power Locally

Member engagement is the core of what we do as a union. It’s how we build the power we need to win contract, legislative and other advocacy campaigns. One of AFT Massachusetts’ top priorities is building power in our locals and our communities by improving the operational capacity of our locals and empowering our members to be activists.
One important way we do that is through the AFT Member Organizing Institute. A jointly funded program of the AFT, AFT Massachusetts, and local unions, now in its second year, the AFT Member Organizing Institute capitalizes on one of our most valuable resources—our members—to help build union power and activism.
“Our member organizing institute for this wave has had a record number of participants at 13 and we continue to applaud the vital work being done in our locals to build capacity, identify emerging leaders and of course, continue to internally organize our rank and file members,” said Brian LaPierre, AFT Massachusetts Director of Organization. “They are doing spectacular work in our communities that supports a progressive, grassroots movement to win the battle of properly funding our schools so that all of our students have the tools they need to be successful.”
Through the program, union members are trained and work as part-time member organizers, under the direction of local presidents, to help increase capacity in their local unions and advance issues important to the local school community. Initial and ongoing training and support is provided to participants by AFT national. After training, member organizers are paid to work 10 hours a week (40 hours monthly). This work is to be performed during non-work hours, such as during weekends and evenings. All Member Organizing Institute work is aside from normal work duties.
“In Amesbury we have been working on engaging more members in contract negotiations and signing 4 therapists that we were previously unaware were eligible to join AFT,” said AFT Amesbury member organizer Laurie Williams, who participated in the first year of the AFT Member Organizing Institute. “We are increasing our interactions with members by holding regular 10-minute meetings in each building, utilizing our Facebook page and holding spring and fall mixers, including September's New Member Greeting and Solidarity Mixer. I have also been meeting with more members one on one.”
“The member organizer program has lifted a load off my shoulders and has allowed me to focus on other important parts of my job as President. It has invigorated our Executive Board and membership!” said AFT Amesbury President Cindy Yetman. “It has increased the visibility, notability, accountability and professionalism of our union. I never want to be without this position now!”
The AFT Member Organizing Institute is designed to support our union’s member engagement efforts through one-on-one conversations with members, leadership identification and development, and increased member activism. Member organizers conduct small-group meetings, home visits and one-on-one conversations in other locations; listen to and talk with workers; make assessments; identify social networks and leaders; and move workers to action.
“Nothing beats a union member’s ability to draw from personal work and union experience to engage and activate potential members,” said AFT Massachusetts President Beth Kontos. “In order to win the schools our students deserve and the working conditions we need to help them succeed, we must foster a culture of organizing, member engagement and accountability in our locals. The AFT Member Organizing Institute has been a terrific success in helping to focus our local organizing and member engagement efforts.”
Local union activists in Lawrence and Billerica, which both participated in the first year of the AFT Member Organizing Institute, applauded the program.
“There's no stopping Lawrence Teachers' Union, Local 1019 in 2019! As member organizers, we continue to have one-to-one conversations with our members and track our data. Our ask is to attend 10-minute meetings in their building and attend the monthly union meetings, as well as completing a membership form if they haven't already,” said Lawrence Teachers Union member organizers Kim Barry and Lori Burnham. “The great news is that we have seen new faces each month at our union meetings! Several members wore ‘Red for Ed’ in support of our brothers and sisters in LA!”
“As we transition from wave 2 to wave 3 of the Member Organizing Institute, we are having conversations with members who are asking, ‘What can I do to get more involved?’ Our plan is to continue throwing pebbles into our ‘pond’ and see the ripples move throughout our local,” said Lawrence Teachers Union President Frank McLaughlin. “Membership engagement is essential to a union that wants to thrive, not just survive. We organize because the strength of the union is each individual member, and the strength of each member is the union.”
"Local elections are showing to be an exciting time to get more involved the federation and my local,” said Billerica Federation of Teachers member organizer Jen Cedrone. “I hope to encourage more members to join me in becoming involved with our local government!”
“We appreciate the opportunity that AFT and AFT MA gave us to develop our union through the Member Organizer institute. Right now, we are focused on developing political power in town, by getting more teachers elected to town meeting, and by engaging our members in the school board election,” said Billerica Federation of Teachers President Dave Adams. “We hope that we can develop this role of organizer into a permanent position within the BFT, because we also understand that developing power and relationships in the community is a process that requires an extended commitment. We think this program is a great way to jump start this type of engagement.”
To learn more about how your local can participate in the AFT Member Organizing Institute, contact Brian LaPierre, AFT Massachusetts Director of Organization, at

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