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Book club used to engage members at Local 2101

In its quest to engage new members, Local 2101 decided to try something new: A book club meeting.

Members were invited to Thursday's (Aug. 30) brown bag session to discuss the article, "Renewed Activism for the Labor Movement: The Urgency of Young Worker Engagement" by Maite Tapia and Lowell Turner. The article examined the conditions under which young workers actively engage in contemporary labor movements in France, Germany, the United Kingdom and the United States.

Millennials are the largest generation of workers in the U.S. and responsible for a large portion of recent gains in union representation, according to an Economic Policy Institute study.

Local 2101 book club Siegel

In the photo on the right, from left to right, Local 2101’s Stephanie Widing and Ashley Warling-Spiegel listen as Lauren Siegel makes a point during the discussion.

Lauren Siegal, one of the event’s organizers, said the Department Of Human Services (DHS) has one of the highest percentages of employees who are millennials. She was quick to point out while the article was about millennials, “Our book club is for everyone regardless of age or generation.”

The article noted that many young people in the U.S. have been active in movements outside of their unions. “I want the union to take a more holistic approach. A lot of younger workers have been involved in other social issues like Black Lives Matter, gun safety, homelessness, income inequality and other issues. It is important to get these issues to the forefront,” said Stephanie Widing, a book club discussion leader.

Local 2101 book club

In the photo on the right, from left to right, Sylvia Kidder and Whitney Terrill participate in Local 2101’s book club.

“I think there’s a balance of what’s important to MAPE members and still push the envelope,” Whitney Terrill said. “Not everyone will be comfortable engaging in politics, income inequality or other issues. They should be encouraged to do it if they can make a connection to MAPE’s strategic plan. As long a someone is willing to do the work and it’s not in conflict with MAPE priorities, why not?”

Sylvia Kidder proposed doing “a member spotlight at the end of local meetings to talk about specific issues members are interested in.”

The article also highlighted the importance of unions offering leadership development to its younger members. “It’s one thing to invite people to the table and another thing to listen to their ideas. I have a background in social activism. We know a lot of our members are doing things outside of the union and we need to get them to do them with us,” Nicole Juan added.

“Because some people who have been here a long time and are very committed to state service, they may not even realize when there is room for change. People want to feel listened to and have a place to lead,” Terrill said.

Local 2101 book club

In the photo on the right, from left to right, Stephanie Widing and Sarah Sinderbrand prepare discussion questions for Local 2101’s the book club.

Nearly all of the participants mentioned they would like to learn more about unions and labor history. “It’s important to education people at new employee orientations, A lot of people who come to DHS don’t know anything about unions. We need to start at DHS’ new employee orientation,” Sarah Sinderbrand said.

She continued, “Having visible resources about who the local’s MAPE people are is also important. I put a MAPE contract facing outward on my cubicle and people are always coming in and asking me questions -- and I’m not even a steward!”

Learning more about MAPE’s nearly 40-year history was also significant to most participants. “A lot of seasoned members have a historical view of state service that is really valuable. People on my team are able to remind me of history and tell us about previous positions, which ones were RIFed [reduction in force, usually meaning a position or department was being eliminated]. I learned that from my peers and not a newspaper,” Terrill said. “We may have learned about general workers’ rights, but more seasoned people remind us of why this is important.”

Widing suggested the union consider establishing a mentorship program between newer and longer-serving members, “Millennials and generation Xers reach out to me. I feel I could use more of a connection with baby boomers, because they’ve been here longer and have knowledge to share, and I want to learn.”

Participants also expressed the importance of MAPE connecting with other organizations. “I’m a third generation union family. I’m really passionate about the labor movement in Minnesota and would like to work with other unions,” Sinderbrand said.

“I’m grateful for what we’ve done and want to spread it to others,” Kidder added.

Terrill said she would like to participate in more information sessions such as partnering with the League of Women Voters but didn’t want “the union to be associated with only one party.”

Terrill said she hopes the book club continues, “The articles pose interesting questions for union members to think about. It makes me feel stronger and more confident the more I know about history and current events.”