Organize the Unorganized: The UE National Organizing Plan

The power of working people to advance our interests, resist employer attacks on our conditions, and reshape our society to serve the many, not only the few, can only be realized when we are united in purpose and action. For this reason, organizing the unorganized has always been our union’s primary task. 

Even in the face of the attacks on labor unions, working people, immigrants, people of color, and women waged by the Trump administration, we come to our 76th National Convention able to report significant progress on the organizing front. With help from dozens of volunteers from UE locals we organized bargaining units consisting of approximately 1,000 workers across 16 states.

But we did so despite a worsening environment for working people and their unions. The Trump labor board, now populated by union-busting lawyers, has moved to completely reverse even the small pro-worker gains made during prior administrations. The internment of immigrant families on our southern border, support for white supremacists in Charlottesville and beyond have only intensified the attacks on working people.

Meanwhile, the percentage of American workers represented by unions fell to 10.5 percent, its lowest point in a century. A weaker labor movement, combined with the huge corporate tax cuts passed by the Trump administration in 2017, has resulted in unprecedented income inequality. Already-weak labor laws are further undermined by employer efforts to evade compliance through the use of temporary staffing agencies, subcontracting and independent contractor schemes. Privatization continues apace, decimating good public sector jobs. 

Workers are fighting back and UE is leading the way. Since our last national convention, hundreds of thousands of workers across the economy have hit the picket line, using the strike tactic to win their demands. 2018 saw the largest strike participation in many years, and 2019 looks to be even higher. The 1,700 members of UE Locals 506 and 618 in Erie, PA led the way by waging a successful nine-day strike that led to a first contract with Wabtec Corp. It was the largest manufacturing strike of the Trump presidency and proof that a united and determined membership can win even during the midst of a right-wing, pro-corporate environment. From teachers in West Virginia, Oklahoma and Arizona waging illegal strikes, to tech workers at Google, Wayfair and Amazon striking to protest sexual harassment and anti-immigrant polices, to hotel workers across four states, workers across the country issued a powerful reminder that the strike is our most powerful weapon.

But even in light of this renewed militancy, workers continue to face tremendous obstacles to organizing, from a legal regime stacked against workers, to intense union-busting by employers, to a constant propaganda barrage from the corporate media. Facing these challenges means that our organizing work needs to be stronger and smarter. To meet the challenges, last year UE formed a larger team of dedicated organizing staff. We’ve developed new tools that allow workers to contact us when they are looking for a union. We’ve employed new technology to track and analyze our work, and developed new strategies to more effectively generate organizing leads.

As the “Union for Everyone,” we have brought UE’s style of aggressive, rank-and-file unionism to new sectors of the economy where workers are hungry for a fighting, democratic organization. At the same time, we have doubled down on organizing efforts in industries where we have developed a strong track record, such as rail crew transportation, government contractors, the rail manufacturing sector and consumer grocery cooperatives. 

Our innovative organizing work and use of militant tactics should continue. Plant occupations, strategic organizing strikes, and the establishment of pre-majority unions and civil disobedience should be selectively used where warranted by conditions in the workplace.

We will need more trailblazing, along with new ideas and new approaches, if we are to turn the tide for working people on the organizing front. In searching for these new approaches and tactics, our union needs the ongoing involvement of UE Young Activists and rank-and-file volunteers who have assisted in recent organizing struggles. UE should also continue to involve allies in labor and community groups who are willing to join us in our organizing work.

Workers’ rights to organize and take collective action are human rights. They are fundamental to all democratic societies and therefore we demand that the rights to organize and bargain with employers be restored for all working people.

THEREFORE, BE IT RESOLVED THAT THIS 76th UE CONVENTION ADOPTS THE FOLLOWING ORGANIZING PLAN TO BUILD OUR UNION:

  1. UE will continue to serve as the “Union for Everyone” and will organize across the industrial, service and public sectors of our nation’s economy, uniting workers from a wide range of occupations in the common pursuit of improving the working class through the practice of democratic, rank-and-file unionism;
  2. UE will provide a home to workers across the economy, and in the private sector will place special emphasis on waging campaigns at UE sister shops and in industries where UE has an existing presence, building our bargaining strength in order to defend past gains and improve our conditions. These sectors include government contractors, rail manufacturing, rail crew transportation, consumer grocery cooperatives and private nonprofits;
  3. UE will build its ranks primarily in existing UE base areas, giving top priority to areas where the existence of viable organizing targets, the availability of staff, the active support of member volunteers and community allies, and other key strategic factors enhance our prospects for success;
  4. UE will continue to develop the UE-Unifor North American Solidarity Project through cross-border organizing work among Canadian and U.S. transnationals at companies like Hallcon and Bombardier, as well as in other specific sectors and employers. Through this alliance Unifor and UE will continue to share organizing expertise and strategic approaches to building worker power. UE and Unifor local union members and staff will continue to play a vital role in this cross-border organizing project;
  5. UE will build rank-and-file unions among state, county and municipal employees in states where UE currently has public workers under contract, as well as in states where our public employee members are denied the right to collective bargaining, and we will fight to win full bargaining rights for public workers in states where those rights are abridged;
  6. UE will defend and support our public-sector locals in states like Iowa as they build organizing campaigns to win recertification elections and maintain representational rights;
  7. UE will test new models and methods of organizing in all sectors, including alternative strategies for gaining recognition of the union, as well as strategies for building pre-majority unions in workplaces where formal recognition cannot be achieved in the short term; we will make use of new technologies for data management and communications to strengthen our organizing; we will look for opportunities for joint organizing with other unions and workers’ centers; and we will revive past organizing methods, including recognition strikes and other militant organizing tactics;
  8. UE will invite independent unions to join us as the national home of independent, member-run unionism, and we will offer refuge to workers in other unions who are seeking to escape corrupt, undemocratic conditions;
  9. UE will build its ranks through internal organizing wherever open-shop conditions exist and will develop new plans and materials to assist locals in states that have adopted Right-to-Work-for-Less Laws or other measures to undermine union strength and security;
  10. UE will involve its rank-and-file members in organizing whenever possible and will take the following steps to encourage more members to help organize the unorganized: 
    • We will provide training and support for members who wish to become involved in organizing and we will provide members with the tools for reaching out to nonunion workers in their communities to find the next organizing campaign;
    • We will continue joint sponsorship with regions and locals of organizing trainings, blitzes and other special programs for which lost time and other costs are shared by the national and the region or local to make greater member participation possible;
    • We will encourage locals to negotiate for better union leave provisions to enable more members to get time off the job to assist in building the union;
    • We will respect cultural and language differences in our organizing work, and we will continue to reach into our ranks to find more volunteer organizers from diverse backgrounds;
  11. UE will continue its successful Young Activist Program to find and develop activists and leaders for the future; we will prioritize young activist involvement in organizing, and we will ask our young activists to occupy the front line in fighting for workers’ rights.