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Peoria locals put union’s vision into action

9/08/2017
Governor Rauner’s persistent attacks on our communities and the likelihood of an unfavorable decision in the Janus v. AFSCME case in the U.S. Supreme Court has spurred the IFT to develop a new vision and powerful plan of action to ensure that our union thrives in the days ahead.

Towards that end, the Peoria Federation of Teachers (Local 780), the Peoria Federation of Support Staff (Local 6099), and their partners in SEIU Healthcare and Grassroots Collaborative worked together this summer with the IFT to develop and conduct the Peoria People’s Project (PPP).

072517 PPP Locals 780 and 6099 Meeting with Dan 2
“We started the People’s Project by bringing local unions together,” said Jeff Adkins-Dutro, Local 780 president. “We wanted to mobilize our members in Peoria to build positive relationships that will help us fight together effectively.That will benefit our unions and our community.”
Project organizers discussed ways to get members to recommit to their unions and make connections with their community. They decided to conduct a five-week program that included training dozens of IFT members and other volunteer “interns” on how to have effective conversations with fellow members about what issues mattered most to them and how the union could help. Learning to listen was key to preparing the volunteers.

After being trained in best practices, the interns put the People’s Project goals into action. Volunteers went door-to-door in their neighborhoods to canvass other members and assess their commitment to building a powerful union. They asked members to sign a new union card, participate in committees, attend city council meetings, make calls to support the fight for school funding, and more.
“The door-to-door aspect of the Project is what moves people,” said Mary Fran Wessler, president of Local 6099. “Having a face and a name, and a smile at your door makes a huge difference and can sway people,” she added.
Some volunteers were initially apprehensive about knocking on doors and having conversations with their colleagues, some of whom had differing views on unions and politics. There was also anxiety about asking other members to make calls to the governor about school funding or raising the minimum wage.  
 
But once they hit the streets, interns said they found the experience enlightening and empowering. Local 780 member Linda Wilson was among the interns who used her training to create positive, effective interactions.

"I had a two-hour meeting with a veteran teacher who couldn’t stop talking about workplace issues that were important to him,”
Wilson said. “He really appreciated that someone from the union had come to his home. He even called our approach ‘out-of-the-box.’

“It was a great feeling to make that one-on-one connection with a fellow member,” she added. “Just as importantly, I was able to encourage him to make calls to advocate for some important issues, and he even plans to participate in a union committee. What a positive result for such a simple effort! All I did was ask – and listen,” she added.
By the end of the summer, PPP efforts had resulted in an amazing nearly 1,700 door-knocks, more than 300 personal conversations, and hundreds of new union cards signed. The collaborative effort also laid a strong foundation to create a community “labor table” that will bring unions and Peoria together to fight for issues that will benefit everyone.

The project’s work is far from over. Additional meetings are scheduled, and the strong union-community relationships they are building will have a positive impact on upcoming contract campaigns.

Most importantly, the project has shown that by reaching out to members individually, every local union can effectively engage members, increase the understanding of their shared concerns and challenges, and build union strength.
“The Peoria People’s Project is the living embodiment of our union’s vision – ‘Members fighting powerfully for a strong union and the future we all deserve,” said IFT President Dan Montgomery. “It represents both what we have to be as a union and how we will win the fights ahead, local by local, community by community.
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