An update on the Mid-Valley IWWs efforts to organize local union staff.
On January 6th, 2020, the Coalition of Graduate Employees, EFT Local 6069 voluntarily recognized the Mid-Valley IWW General Membership Branch as the sole bargaining unit for its staff.
CGE has been in existence since 1999 and represents around 1,800 employees in the Pacific Northwest based at Oregon State University.
The Mid-Valley GMB had only acquired their charter six months prior to this. The IWW presence in Corvallis, and their branch’s informal connection to the CGE before chartering, ensured that the new staff contract would be signed with the IWW. This contract includes full health insurance, twenty days paid vacation, paid holidays, and full control along with a right to strike.
Kevin Van Meter, one of the CGE staff members, explained that the CGE campaign extends far beyond winning a good contract; it helped build resources for the local GMB.
Many CGE members dual-card with the IWW. This relationship and the new contract means that CGE is able to provide the Corvallis GMB with additional resources in their workplace campaigns—staff time, copier, use of space, and most importantly, a connection to a sympathetic community.
“We are currently helping to organize a ‘hot shop’ in the area,” Kevin stated to us. “Hosting an OT 101 takes about three months to set up and fly out organizers to get there. We don’t always have the luxury of time to wait for that. Having skilled organizers with resources at their disposal means that we can provide these ‘hot shops’ with immediate connections to our branch and get them prepared to organize.”
Too often, business unions can muscle out Wobbly organizing efforts due to their increased resources, trained staff, and available space. However, the CGE campaign has helped mitigate these issues.
“We [Corvallis GMB and CGE] are holding a union training from February 8-9th,” stated Kevin. “It’s part Labor Notes materials and part IWW materials. But without skilled organizers in our branch, people who have the ability to go out and make these needed connections with others in the city, we wouldn’t be able to help as easily.”
Wobbly presence in the region has also held business unions more accountable to the desire for democratic unionism and a commitment to financially supporting organizing drives. Indeed, it was the IWW’s presence in Corvallis that made CGE’s staff members reach out for representation in the first place.
“These actions mutually build up the other,” stated Kevin. “As the branches become stronger, their connections to organizers become stronger.”
Kevin had these thoughts on how new branches could learn from this successful campaign.
New branches should look for organizing that will complement the branch as well as making more contacts with communities. Bring in members who have those contacts already, who have the skills of an organizer and can help build up the branch by creating a mutually beneficial relationship between the branch and other allied organizations.
As Kevin prepares for his branch’s next monthly meeting, he expects to run into a host of new and interested members.
“Our ‘hot shop’ organizing is going really well,” Kevin relayed, “thanks to the success of this campaign, and I expect many of the fellow workers who are preparing to go public will see the strength of our union, what we can offer them, and build on this momentum.”