November 24, 2020

Rookie president makes veteran moves to build his local with Union Plus

Government Employees (AFGE) Local 933 President Ben Mahan faced some challenges when he took his oath of office in January 2006.

He was the new president of a local union in Detroit, MI, that didn’t have a union or agency shop provision in its contract and the local didn’t have enough income to pay its bills. Before he assumed office, Mahan, who has worked at the Veterans Administration Medical Center in Detroit for more than 21 years, had service as a steward as his only prior experience in union activism.

Mahan’s predicament: the local needed to pay its bills, but if dues increased, he was worried he’d lose members.

The local decided to increase dues just about one year ago. But despite that increase, Local 933 has 150 more members today than when Mahan took office.

How did Mahan solve this dilemma? The local began a benefits-oriented recruiting drive in the months before the dues increase.

He credits much of positive-and many might say unexpected-growth to publicizing Union Plus benefit programs and a few other benefits the local came up with on its own.

Mahan and other leaders produced a booklet on the entire range of benefits and gave one to each employee, along with fruit, popcorn and pizza at various gatherings.

He himself knew little about Union Plus previously, seeing “only an occasional flier on an obscure wall.  The first thing I realized is that if you do offer benefits, you have to let people know about them.”

Local 933 also utilized bright, prominently displayed posters downloaded from the Union Plus Web site, constant promotion on the local’s Web site and displays in the union office.

“When you can add value to membership and people know that they can get their dues money back in the form of savings on things they need, it makes it much easier to get them to join,” Mahan says.  “I just knew that taking this approach was the right thing to do.”

He points out that the local now has fewer people dropping their memberships and even supervisors are flocking to the union.

Best of all, the growth in membership and the positive feelings “allow us to do a better job in our core mission of representing our members,” he says proudly.

The rate of membership growth has increased over time and Mahan is optimistic that the membership-and the local’s strength and effectiveness-will continue to grow as well.