‘Don’t wait until you need help to become a member’

Every day, Lawrence Jones likes to talk to at least one of his coworkers in Miami-Dade County about the importance of joining the union.

“I ask them if they’re a member of the union, and if they say no, then I ask them why and we go from there,” says Jones, a member of AFSCME Local 199. “A lot of people respond that they just got on the job and can’t afford to pay union dues. So I tell them, with what’s going on across the nation right now, including the Friedrichs case, you can't afford not to pay union dues.”

Jones has to persuade others who seem to think the union is a vehicle for resolving disputes with management, and they assume they won’t need it so long as they stay out of trouble.

Jones is an inmate services technician in the Miami-Dade corrections department. He participated in the AFSCME Strong training and says he has signed up 20 to 25 new members in the last four or five months. He says he won’t quit until at least three out of four of his coworkers are members of the local. That’s slightly higher than the 70 percent membership goal our union set for right-to-work states with collective bargaining, such as Florida.

When speaking about the union, Jones likes to bring up the story of one of his coworkers.

“There’s this gentleman here and he’s got about 25 years on the job like myself, but what’s different about him is he’s deaf, he cannot hear,” Jones says. “A couple of months ago he was written up for not going to a training. He’s never been written up before, there’s nothing in his folder. The problem turns out to be, he requested that they provide him with an interpreter for the training, but they never got back to him, they never confirmed, so he didn’t go to the training.”

Jones’ coworker was blamed for an oversight by his supervisor.

“It wasn’t the case that he was a bad employee, but he had run into a bad supervisor,” Jones explains. “Most people, when I tell them about that, I tell them it may not be about you, it may be about the person supervising you. So don’t wait until you need help to become a member. Support the union right now so you always have help.”

Jones understands his union is himself and his colleagues. They are the union.

“I became active with my union because I decided I wanted to be a part of the process and not just sit back and wait on someone else,” he says.

Today, he hopes to become a shop steward and get elected to his local’s executive board. And he plans to continue having AFSCME Strong conversations with his colleagues.

“Right now I would really love to see if I can get 75 percent of people under the AFSCME umbrella,” he says. “If I can get 75 percent I’m doing good. That’s what I’m shooting for.”