If Texas working families and their unions are going to turn red, right-wing, "right to work" for less Texas blue and replace the corporate-beholden, anti-union politicians with lawmakers who will respect the rights of workers, "We'll have to do it one [state] House district at a time," Richard Shaw, secretary-treasurer of the Harris County (Texas) AFL-CIO Council, told participants at the Winning for Texas Workers action session at the AFL-CIO 2013 Convention this afternoon.
Shaw explained how Working America's pilot program in one Harris County district, with just 970 union members, was able to canvass and talk with nonunion residents about the issues they care about and sign up 9,600 new members to the AFL-CIO's community affiliate. Focusing on those new Working America households with voter registration and get-out-the-vote effort, "we ended up winning."
A second campaign in Houston, focusing on wage theft, is building similar results and finding out that nonunion families' concerns—good jobs, education, health care and more—mirror those of the union movement, he said, and are building blocks to growing political strength.
Texas AFT President Linda Bridges and Marvin Ragsdale of the Ironworkers described how their unions' associate member programs are helping build not just political power, but organizing strength also.
Bridges said Texas AFT is in the second year of a 10-year plan with the goal of winning a legislative majority that will support and pass collective bargaining for public employees. Not quite two years in, nearly 8,000 teachers and other school employees in 800 school districts have joined the associate members program that is growing new locals and building on existing ones.
The Ironworkers in Houston have just begun an Ironworkers associate member program that Ragsdale described as a "gateway to full Ironworkers membership" for the nonunion construction workers and their employment with union signatory employers. He said:
We are communicating with workers we have not in the past and find that their issues are the same.
Cristina Tzintzun, executive director of the Workers Defense Project, is working with immigrant construction workers in Austin. She said some 50% of the state's workers are undocumented, making them vulnerable to exploitation. But in Austin and in partnership with the AFL-CIO's Building and Construction Trades Council, they have been able to win regulations requiring rest breaks, safety training and other worksite rule that state law doesn't require. In addition, the partnership has helped win new wage theft laws and laws against misclassifying workers as independent contractors.
Texas AFL-CIO President Becky Moeller explained how, even with a deep red legislature, a united group of Texas unions and progressive organizations have been able to defeat some egregious anti-worker efforts.