New Frontiers in Organizing: The Workers Organizers Behind Major Machinists Campaigns

In recent years, the IAM has expanded its organizing efforts into non-traditional workplaces and made growing the union’s membership and span a priority.

At the 40th IAM Grand Lodge Convention, IAM Organizing Director Vinny Addeo sat down with the organizers behind historic unionizing campaigns at  Apple retail stores, Milwaukee Art Museum, Veterinary Specialists and Emergency Services, JetBlue, and University of New Mexico Sandoval Regional Medical Center.

Addeo asked Sam Estes from Veterinary Specialists and Emergency Services how their group of organizers combated militant union busting from the company.

“We weren’t afraid of the union busters. We hit them head-on. We had meetings with IAM Organizing Department Grand Lodge Representative Mike Evans and National Veterinary Professionals Union president Liz Hughston, to understand the anti-union playbook, so we knew how to counteract that,” said Estes. “We met to make sure we knew what the game plan was; we came up with an employee list and went through it to see who was pro, con, or on the fence, and we didn’t sign cards until we knew we had enough support to win the vote.”

In June 2022, over 100 Apple store employees in Towson, Md., overwhelmingly voted to join the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers (IAM).

Addeo wondered what advice IAM CORE organizer Kevin Gallagher would give to workers trying to organize at large, non-union, multinational corporations. 

“It becomes very difficult for the company to maintain the face of being a positive force for change if they’re overtly busting unions,” said Gallagher. “So, using positive language and making it known that we were doing this because we love working for Apple, we loved the job that we did, we were committed to that work that we wanted to do, we just wanted to have a little more agency in our lives, a little bit more control, and we thought that unionization was the only way to do that.”

Panelist Ashley Long, President and District Business Representative of IAM Local 794, helped organize 100 healthcare workers at the University of New Mexico Sandoval Regional Medical Center in a joint campaign with the American Federation of Teachers New Mexico. She was asked what it was like organizing in partnership with another union.

“We learned that whenever we enter a room in lock-step, as one union, no matter how great the adversity, we’ll always win,” said Long. “We’ve learned that time and time again. So, we carried that mission to succeed.”

Because the Milwaukee Art Museum (MAM) union campaign happened at the height of the Pandemic, Addeo asked MAM organizer Warren Enström how that group used technology to make the campaign a success.

“The normal playbook for organizing was useless. In the context of the Pandemic, that really puts out door-knocking and the more traditional approaches to organizing,” said Enström. “We did a huge social media blitz: Facebook, Instagram, Twitter – finding the people we suspected might be art museum employees and adding them, messaging them, and doing a network crawl of who’s out there that we can talk to about the union. We got fired up and it was an awesome way to connect with people right in their own homes.”

Most recently, IAM filed an application with the National Mediation Board (NMB) to represent 3,000 JetBlue Ground Workers.

Organizing in the air transport industry presents its own unique challenges because of the federal laws that govern the airlines under the Railway Labor Act. The law requires unions to organize the entire company at every single location, nationwide, at the same time.

Addeo asked what strategy ground crew member Richard Jarvis deployed to get all 15 JetBlue locations to vote for the union.

“It was just pure hard work,” said Jarvis. “Every single day guys from the IAM would be at the airport talking with us to figure out who was willing to carry the ball. We’d message people, we’d get to know people by transferring from station to station. We’d get people from the IAM in those stations and build momentum. It was just pound-the-pavement, face-to-face, every day.”

“We need to continue to organize in order to be a successful union,” said Addeo. “In order for us to be a successful organizing union and not a union that organizes, we need to build an army of organizers in the IAM, whose sole purpose is to organize.”