Western Region Sees Challenges, Opportunities

April 1, 2019

“We face a lot of challenges but also a lot of opportunities,” Carl Rosen told delegates to UE’s Western Region council meeting in brief remarks after he was re-elected to serve another term as the region’s president. Meeting in Omaha, NE this weekend, the region held elections, heard reports on contracts and shop struggles, and held subregional caucuses.

In his president’s report, Rosen referred to the recent media hoopla surrounding the conclusion of the Mueller investigation but suggested that it was a distraction from the many real ways that the Trump administration is helping the corporate class “rob workers blind.” “The most lasting damage” of the Trump administration for working people, Rosen pointed out, is the appointment of “one reactionary corporate stooge after another” to the federal courts, paving the way for anti-worker decisions such as last summer's Janus decision, which outlawed union security contract language in the whole public sector.

“We've always said workers can't look to the courts for our solutions, that we have to make our own solutions through direct action,” said Rosen. With the courts increasingly packed with Trump appointees, he said, “this is going to be more true than ever.”

With low unemployment now, but a number of economic trends pointing towards the likelihood of a recession in the near future, Rosen told UE members, “get what you can out of the boss right now. This is likewise the right time to organize the unorganized, and this is also the right time to fight for our broader political agenda.”

Aggressive Struggle

The shop reports indicated that UE locals are taking such advice to heart. Malik Grant, Local 1135, Mike Plachy, Local 1139, and Brian Cottrell, Tim Holmberg and Justin Thompson, Local 1187, all reported on contract settlements that included hefty wage increases. Eric Franke, Local 808, reported on recent healthcare negotiations that turned a company-proposed 27 percent increase into a four percent decrease in costs for union members.

Several locals also reported significant grievance wins. Laura Johnson, Local 1077 and Larry Hopkins, Local 1177, related that, in addition to successfully concluding negotiations for a new national agreement with Hallcon, their locals had won a grievance around cell-phone use that resulted in the payment of hundreds of thousands of dollars to Hallcon drivers across the country. Charlene Winchell, Local 1121, reported on an arbitration win that protected workers’ right to use paid sick leave without being assessed attendance points. “It was truly a wonderful time for our local," Winchell said.

Signing up new members and recruiting new leadership was another theme of the shop reports. Becky Dawes, Local 893-IUP described how her local is signing up new state workers even though their union rights have been drastically restricted by 2017’s anti-union law. “You have to talk about the history of the union, what could happen, what needs to happen,” Dawes said. Jesus Rodriguez, Local 1172 spoke about how his local is “recruiting people to be fighters against the bosses.” Joni Anderson, Local 1107, Ashley Clemons, Local 1004, and Juliet Vata and Joel Faypon, Local 1008, also spoke about their locals’ work to maintain union strength by introducing themselves to and signing up new workers.

In his address to the council meeting, Director of Organization Gene Elk reported on the recent successful nine-day strike by Locals 506 and 618 in Erie, Pennsylvania. The strike was successful, Elk said, because the locals were “old-school UE” and were able to rely on a strong steward system to keep their membership informed and mobilized before and during the strike. “I cannot stress for you how important a strong and vibrant steward system” is, Elk emphasized, for UE locals to mount effective fights against the boss.

The theme of this year's convention will be “UE: the Union for Everyone,” Elk reported. “We are embracing the reality that UE has become a general union,” he said, and the recent strikes in Erie and by UE members seeking a first contract at the Lanterman Regional Center in Los Angeles “prove that UE has a vital presence, and principles that must endure.”

Organizing and First Contracts

Delegates welcomed guests from two UE first-contract struggles. Four Hallcon rail crew drivers, from Illinois, New Mexico and Texas, shared their excitement about leaving a corrupt company union to join UE. “We are so grateful that UE decided to come south,” said Nandell Baines, a driver from Houston, Texas. 650 Hallcon rail crew drivers from eight states voted to join UE in August; they are currently working under the terms and conditions of the UE-Hallcon national agreement and bargaining over wages.

Marc Baca and Raphael Figoera, workers at the Lanterman Regional Center in Los Angeles, told delegates about their year-long struggle for a first contract at the regional center, where workers organized UE Local 1018 in March of last year. UE members staged a one-day “warning” strike on March 20th.

Baca and Figoera explained that the biggest hurdle in organizing was “getting people over their own fears.” Before the union, “people at the agency would cower every time someone from management came around,” Baca said. But when it came time to take action, UE members decided “we don't want a sick-out, that's dishonest, we want to strike.” They showed a video slideshow of photos from the strike with music, put together by Baca, which can be viewed at https://vimeo.com/326990329

Education and Political Action

UE Co-Director of Education Kari Thompson led a workshop on ending sexual harassment in the workplace and in the union. Delegates began the workshop by reading aloud the preamble to the UE constitution, which commits the union to “form an organization which unites all workers on an industrial basis, and rank-and-file control, regardless of craft, age, sex, nationality, race, creed, or political beliefs, and pursue at all times a policy of aggressive struggle to improve our conditions.” UE members discussed how, in order to successfully unite all workers to pursue aggressive struggle, it is necessary to make the workplace and the union a safe and welcoming place for all workers. The workshop also covered the legal and organizational ins and outs of combatting sexual harassment.

Joel Faypon, Local 1008, Larry Hopkins, Local 1177, and Teresa Willibey, Local 1135 told delegates about recent subregional education events in Southern California, Illinois and Indiana, respectively. Delores Buckner-Phillips, Local 1118, reported on a three-day educational conference on the economy for labor leaders that she attended in Chicago. Faypon, Hopkins, and Laura Szech, Local 896, all gave reports on the UE-Unifor North American Solidarity Project conference held in Port Elgin, Ontario in November. At the conference “I realized how we are part of something that is so much bigger than our own locals,” Szech said.

During the political action report, delegates reviewed the mixed results of the 2018 midterm elections, and also the Chicago alderman elections held in February. Longtime UE ally Chuy Garcia, who was elected to Congress in November, is taking a prominent leadership role on issues of importance to working people, Rosen reported.

The UE members also discussed climate change, and the importance of, as Rosen put it, “fighting to make sure that the cost of it isn't born by working people.” Delegates authorized the council to pay the registration fee for up to four UE delegates to attend the Labor Network for Sustainability’s National Labor Convergence, which will be held in Chicago in June.

The Council also reaffirmed affiliation with the pro-worker political organization United Working Families, made donations to May Day coalitions, and endorsed Scott Reinhardt for California State Assembly.

In subregional caucuses, members made plans for upcoming May Day mobilizations, educational events, and supporting each other’s contract struggles.

Delegates also reviewed the union’s plans for regional restructuring and financial consolidation, going over the proposed amendment to the UE constitution that will be voted on at UE’s national convention in August. They were joined by guests from Ohio Locals 716 and 766. If the constitutional amendments are approved, UE’s Ohio locals will be joining the Western region in 2020.

In addition to re-electing Rosen as president, Western Region delegates re-elected Becky Dawes, Local 896, as vice president and Charlene Winchell, Local 1121, as secretary-treasurer. Joni Anderson, Local 1107, Ashley Clemons, Local 1004, Joel Faypon, Local 1008, Michael Goldberg, Local 896, Malik Grant, Local 1135, Victoria Hilton, Local 808, Larry Hopkins, Local 1177, Laura Johnson, Local 1077, Bryan Martindale, Local 1421, Justin Mikel, Local 770, Sharry Neidfeldt, Local 1161, Mike Plachy, Local 1139, Justin Thompson, Local 1187, Sheila Thompson, Local 893, and Teresa Willibey, Local 735 were elected as the region's executive board, and Delores Buckner-Phillips, Local 1118, Jesus Rodriguez, Local 1172, and Carmine Ziccarelli, Local 1137 were elected trustees, with David Betsworth, Local 893 being elected to serve as the alternate trustee. Bryan Martindale was elected to the region's at-large seat on the General Executive Board, and delegates also decided to send Becky Dawes to the GEB meetings as an observer.

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