Strong Contract Turns Into Strong Membership Growth

Spread across more than 600 acres on two major campuses as well as several branch campuses and research facilities throughout South Florida and the Florida Keys, it has always been a challenge for coworkers to connect at Florida International University. And that has made it hard for AFSCME Local 3346 activists and leaders to communicate all the success they have had for their coworkers.

That is why going into contract negotiations this year they decided to do something different. First, find out what issues the members prioritized in negotiations. Next, run an aggressive ratification campaign that turned out as many employees as possible so they could see exactly what was won. Finally, hold a membership blitz shortly after the ratification vote to build on the increased visibility.

“We wanted to keep members and nonmembers as engaged as possible throughout the process,” said David Cowart, a groundkeeper and president of AFSCME Local 3346. “With so many buildings spread across multiple counties we wanted this new contract to be something that could unite us if just for a few minutes and underscore that we, the workers, made it possible.”

With the cost of living and income inequality across South Florida continuing to be an issue, FIU workers stressed the need to prioritize pay and hold the line when it came to benefits. Members also wanted make sure they could present the case for AFSCME membership to new employees, an issue that had been a priority for years but the university kept standing firm against.

The increased visibility and activity paid off at the bargaining table. Members won a new contract that includes various pay and longevity provisions equaling a 3% increase in each year of the three-year contract. They won new employee orientation language, PEOPLE language to be included on the membership form and there was no change in employee health care or pension benefits.

“If there was ever a time you could point out the AFSCME difference here at FIU, this is it,” said Cowart. “While employees covered by our contract won a 3% raise, those who are not covered got only a 1% raise. But most importantly, we grew closer together as coworkers and AFSCME members.”

Not a single no vote was cast in ratification but more than three dozen new members have signed up, representing a 23% membership increase and a bright new day for Local 3346.