A New Organizing Model

Organizing Matters

Volume CX, No. 12December, 2010

Michael Donovan

Michael Donovan recently joined Local 802 as the union’s director of organizing and supervisor of the Club Date department. This is his premier column.

My career in the labor movement began in 1968 when I took a job at a steel mill in Buffalo. I immediately became involved in the union in order to protect myself and the other steelworkers from the dangerous and dirty work involved in the steelmaking process and from the partiality of management.

In every job since that day I have been involved with unions to one degree or another until one day I realized that I was in the middle of a career.

While helping to organize the staff of the Multnomah County Library system in Portland, Oregon I became aware of the limitations workers faced when they chose to step up to the boss and bring justice to their workplace.

I decided at that point to get more involved in the labor movement and to this end I enrolled in the School of Labor and Industrial Relations at Michigan State University.

Teaching in their in service programs at union halls across the state opened up another side of labor to me – the education of working people.

In addition to my union jobs I also have been a teacher and for over 25 years I have been an instructor at the School of Industrial and Labor Relations at Cornell University’s Metropolitan District.

As an observer of the labor movement I couldn’t have been in a more interesting or exciting city than New York.

I have done most of the jobs that unions offer from labor representative, to education director, to organizing director, to negotiator, to researcher.

I have met labor leaders, sympathetic politicians, and fascinating employers but the most interesting of all have been the workers I have come in contact with in the course of my career.

Librarians, sanitation workers, mental health therapy workers (the most unappreciated yet necessary workers in the state of New York), leather workers, bookstore workers, steelworkers, teachers, clothing makers, tailors, restaurant employees, and staffs of labor unions have all passed my way.

I am now privileged to work for a group of workers who are so intricately involved in the cultural fabric of New York City that “privilege” seems like too tame a word to use.

Every job I have worked has its own set of rules, its own peculiarities, its own pace, its own problems and its own necessities.

Every union I have worked for whether, AFSCME, the Steel Workers, library workers, clothing and textile workers, and now musicians have had one thing in common – the need to organize new workers in order to survive.

Every union I have worked for had engaged the members and staffs of those unions in the effort to bring new members into their respective folds.

All unions I have worked for have had successes and failure in these endeavors.

The labor movement, if it is to remain a “movement” at all, must organize.

This generally easier said than done mainly because it requires a monumental effort of the union in order to achieve success.

There are two main models which have determined the direction a union will take in its outlook and allocation of resources.

The first of these two models is the servicing model.

The servicing model concentrates the union’s efforts into servicing existing contracts through the grievance and arbitration processes.

Much of the union’s staff is given over to the routines involved in making sure the contract(s) are negotiated, enforced and filed.

The second model is the organizing model.

The organizing model does not totally reject the servicing model nor does the servicing model entirely abandon organizing efforts.

Each model, as their names suggest, emphasize a different aspect of what the union feels important.

Often unions retool to shift from one model to another.

Local 802 has been in the servicing mode for a number of years and now will be concentrating its efforts in bringing new members to the Local.

To do this the staff which has long been servicing will be put to work bringing Local 802 to those who have not had the opportunity to join.

There are many areas to look at including the jazz and ethnic fields, and the indie music scene.

There will also be additional internal organizing efforts concentrating on the club date.

All the efforts of the Organizing Department will be concentrated on increasing the membership of Local 802 by moving into areas where we can find members in need of union representation.

It will be to this end that myself and the organizing staff will be committed.

Please call my office at (212) 245-4802 if you want to help in any way.