Organizing by building relationships

Posted Oct. 31, 2019 by

In August, I gave my State of the Union before our brother and sister delegates at the OCSEA Convention. I laid it all out: the good, the bad and the ugly.

It’s a trying time in our labor history. Forces outside of us—outside of our families and co-workers—will stop at nothing to destroy us. But it’s a learning opportunity to pin down what we must do to build the solvency of our union.

I’m reminded that eight years ago, we came together like no other group of workers to defeat Senate Bill 5 at the ballot box. We were hyper-focused because we knew our voices on the job were at stake. We hit the streets, we got 1 million signatures—we banded together to save collective bargaining. And we need that kind of vigilance again.

The hits keep coming. Court cases to break unions: Harris vs. Quinn. Janus vs. AFSCME. Opt-out campaigns, one after another. Each anti-union special interest group that attacks us hopes that they’ll be the one to bring us down. But they forget: we’re mighty and powerful. We’re America’s union workers and we won’t be defeated!

To me, unions mean family. Like the UAW-GM sisters and brothers united together on the picket line, we’re in this together. That’s why my mission moving forward is building relationships—not transactions. Fostering relationships with our family of members is key to our longevity and strength. Sure, we have a diverse and atypical membership. From bridge inspectors and environmental specialists to office professionals and cosmologists, every member has a story to tell and a part to contribute. And I want to hear those stories, embrace them and build our movement around those narratives.

And I am depending on our unions leaders to take the reigns!

OCSEA isn’t in the business of producing tangible items—like cars or electronics. But we’re in the business of producing leaders and influencers to harness stories, educate members on the power of the contract and mold new leaders to make everyone’s lives better.

OCSEA has a story to tell too! Our 80-year history is vast and our victories are extensive. I credit our strength to our contract (which began as only 37 pages), a great foundation that encompasses many protections: classifications, pay ranges and steps, health and safety language, vacation and sick leaves, educational benefits, dental and vision and more. And don’t forget our free and reduced college to help members AND families thrive. And it was union members, just like yourself, who had a hand in this. But now it’s time to connect our power beyond the bargaining table. This power comes with one-on-ones with members and building relationships for the long haul.

In this post-Janus world, where employees now get the benefits of the union without paying their fair share, we must take our union into our own hands. That means sticking together and connecting to members in new ways and making sure every mechanism is in place to build the power of our membership. This also means protecting our members’ information. We’ve relied on the state for too long for record keeping—which is often incorrect and out-of-date. We also have a new threat with organizations like the Buckeye Institute and the Freedom Foundation (Read more at who are dead set on getting your personal info. to get you to drop your union. That’s why we’ll be reaching out to you often to ensure your data is accurate and up-to-date and to hear about any concerns you have.

As we go into bargaining next year, we want to make sure we’re strong, organized and ready to fight. That means we need everyone’s participation. Everyone needs to get involved in ways like never before, or not since SB 5. This means seeking out local leaders and asking questions; attending local union meetings; going to our website for information; learning the contract through stewards training; posting flyers on your bulletin board or cubicle; taking a new union member to lunch and talking it out. The sky’s the limit!

As we move our concentration to genuine relationship building as our model, I ask for your help. Whether a leader, steward, activist or member, I need you ALL. These collective efforts build longevity and legacy for decades to come.

In Solidarity,

Your OCSEA President, Chris Mabe