From union member to MAPE contract enforcement business agent

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“It’s odd doing this work when the point is to develop a personal relationship, and it is strange doing this through a screen,” admitted Janaya Martin, MAPE’s newest contract enforcement business agent, on working during the pandemic.

Martin joined the MAPE team in early October. She most recently was an organizer for AFSCME 3800, after several years as a rank-and-file member at the University of Minnesota’s Department of Landscape Architecture where she also served as a steward and member on the 3800 executive board.

“I didn’t realize how much my day job would interfere with my union work,” she joked.

“I also didn’t realize how much I would miss steward work and enforcement work. That’s why I accepted an organizer position with my AFSCME local so I could  get back to advocating and empowering members.”

The labor movement is in Martin’s blood. Her grandmother was in the union when she worked at South High School in Minneapolis and also lobbied on behalf of women and children. “My grandma raised me, and I would see her work two or three jobs to provide for my uncle and me. No one should have to work so hard just to live, just to survive,” she said.

The pandemic has added many challenges to Martin’s organizing and contract enforcement work. “We have to develop a new strategy for the next few months. You have to try new things. I used to be able to go for coffee or take someone to lunch, and I could see their facial expressions and their body language. Now you see people virtually in their own spaces and they’re sometimes more comfortable and open. You have to be intentional and be more aware of your own body language and face because you can’t judge how people are judging you. It’s about developing relationships and getting to know them,” Martin said.  

She said she is looking forward to getting to know more MAPE members “and, hopefully, recruiting more stewards to make sure there’s a well-run network in all of my locals. Leadership development is key. It’s really about members taking ownership over themselves, their workplaces and advocating for their coworkers.”

Martin and her partner share six children, ranging from four to 22 years of age, in their blended family. When she is not working with MAPE members or engaged in family activities, Martin enjoys reading and writing poetry. She is a published poet and also hosted a reading series for several years.