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Upping Our Organizing Game



group portrait holding UHP banner
Rich Vance (second from left), 1st VP Shawn Brown, Gina Yacovone-Barrett, Jessie Carlson, Dawn Charles, Connie Simons, VP Membership Activities Shaneé Reid, Recording Secretary Summer Lambert, Christine Judd, and VP Communication Chris DeFrancesco make up the June 2023 Member Organizing Institute Class at UHP. Jasmine Vendredi (left) is an AFT CT organizer and one of the instructors. (Photo by Neal Thomasson, AFT CT)

A strategy to better harness our union’s collective power is taking shape, starting with 10 members fresh out of AFT CT’s Member Organizing Institute (MOI).

Jasmine writing goals on marker board
Jasmine Vendredi, AFT CT organizer, is one of the Member Organizing Institute instructors.

One of the objectives is to overcome the challenges of engagement that come with a membership of more than 3,000 and 150 job titles in multiple shifts and locations.

“We have members who might not realize they are members or fully understand what that means, and others who haven’t signed cards because they don’t realize they need to,” says Chris DeFrancesco, UHP’s VP for communication, one of the officers who took part in the MOI. “These are opportunities to harness and grow our union’s power. The lack of access to  in-person orientation has been an obstacle to those important one-on-one communications.”

four people at a table
From left: Rich Vance, Jessie Carlson, Shaneé Reid, and Connie Simons work on member charting.

Presented by AFT CT organizing staffers Eric Borlaug and Jasmine Vendredi, the four-day workshop covered organizing tools and techniques, member assessments and how to have constructive conversations to encourage involvement, and home visits to members who haven’t signed cards yet.

“We’re understanding why we do things in the union and how it’s going to benefit all the members as a whole,” says Jessie Carlson, a medical assistant who recently became a union rep. “I got involved because I felt like there was a need in my section, in the Neag Cancer Center, to inform the employees about what we provide… as far as better wages, we negotiate for better working conditions, and a lot of the people that I work with don’t know about those types of things. So it was important for me to educate them.”

Dawn knocking on a door
Dawn Charles knocks on a door during a home visit.

Jessie was one of three newly active members who took part in the training, along with Gina Yacovone-Barrett, a sonography technologist in maternal-fetal medicine and newer union rep, and Dawn Charles, a medical assistant in maternal-fetal medicine.

"Eric’s training was awesome," Gina says. "The communication techniques taught can be used personally and professionally as well. It made us step out of our comfort zone which made us grow a bit. It also made me realize we are much bigger and stronger than I had realized and how much power strength in numbers really means."

“I’ve had a whole host of education about union organization and how it supports us as members,” Dawn says. “The more members, the more powerful we are.”

four people at table
From left: Gina Yacovone-Barrett, Dawn Charles, Chris DeFrancesco, and Shaneé Reid take part in UHP's June 2023 Member Organizing Institute workshop.

Other MOI participants included Connie Simons, a medical assistant in cardiology who’s a steward in training as well as a rep, Rich Vance, an information technology desktop technician who’s is planning to get more involved, and Christine Judd, an administrative program coordinator in the dental school, who previously has served on the executive committee. First VP Shawn Brown, Recording Secretary Summer Lambert, and new VP for Membership Activities Shaneé Reid are the other officers who took part.

“It was very encouraging to see a wide range of experience in the room, especially the newer faces seeking to learn more and become more involved,” Shawn says. “We all learned from each other, and I hope this is just the start of an increase in participation and engagement. As this is OUR union, it will continue to require all of us to make this work… together.”

Summer and Dawn in car, Dawn holding signed card
On the road to bring the discussion of the workplace and our union to members' homes, Summer Lambert and Rich Vance show the membership card that is part of the conversation.

"The MOI provided me with the skills to build our union by contacting potential members, educating them about union membership and asking for their membership," Rich says. "It also trained me on how to engage current members who would like to participate in the long-term sustainability of our union."

Connie says the home visits were educational opportunities, not only for the MOI trainees, but for our members who might lack awareness of what UHP represents.

“This effort builds union power by having a collective voice that will help each member become more active as well as more involved in our union,” she says. “We’re reaching out to people who don’t have enough information about how the union works, and we’re trying to make sure that they know their rights when it comes to working at UConn Health, and they can also get involved with helping the community.”

Shaneé says the training opened her eyes to the importance of having every member united and involved.

“Just saying, ‘Yes, I’m a part of the union,’ and not signing a card, that is not going to help us build together,” she says. “If we can come together then we’re able to make a movement, we’re able to be heard, and someone will listen to us. But if we’re in small numbers, we don’t really get our word across. No one really understands or feels where we’re coming from if we’re not together.”

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