As the COVID-19 pandemic began spreading in the U.S. in March, it quickly became clear that the regional council meetings scheduled for late March and early April — large in-person gatherings of people from many states — could not be held as initially planned.
These council meetings were to be more than just gatherings; they were a crucial part of carrying out in a democratic fashion the regional reorganization approved by the last UE convention, the kind of reorganization that in many unions is imposed by fiat from the top down. Locals that had been part of the Northeast Region would be joining most locals from the old Eastern Region to form a new Eastern Region, while locals from Ohio — part of the old Eastern Region — would be joining with locals to the west of them to form a new Western Region. New constitutions had to be approved, along with budgets and financial practices. Decisions about sub-regions had to be made, and elections held.
After lengthy discussions between national and regional leadership, assisted by technical expertise from UE staff, both new regions held their founding meetings virtually in July, over the video-conferencing service Zoom. Delegate registration was handled through an online form, materials were mailed to all delegates ahead of time, and provisions were made to allow delegates to caucus using Zoom “breakout rooms.” The Eastern Region, which requires ballots for contested elections, made arrangements for secure voting via email.
Although there were a few technical glitches, each region successfully approved their new constitution, financial practices, budget and sub-regions. At the Eastern Region meeting, the sub-regional proposal led to a vigorous discussion about how to balance keeping subregions geographically compact with giving locals representing similar workers in similar situations the ability to compare notes and experiences, especially public-sector workers in non-collective-bargaining states in the South. Delegates did note that technology such as video conferencing could be used to bring together locals in disparate geographies without the need to travel.
Charters were presented to new locals by national officers: General President Carl Rosen presented a charter to new Local 119 (ESS workers in New Jersey) in the Eastern Region and Director of Organizing Gene Elk presented new charters to Local 728 (Kentucky Consular Center) and Local 1186 (Willy Street Co-op) in the Western Region.
In the Eastern Region meeting, Sekia Royall, Local 150 and Leslie Riddle, Local 170, co-chairs of “UExtraordinary Women,” the Eastern Region Women’s Caucus, spoke about how they formed the caucus during the national convention and described their work in promoting women’s leadership in UE and women’s health issues in the union and in their communities. Eastern Region Vice President Darrion Smith presented “Women of UE” awards to Dee Towne, Local 228, Cindy Burke, Samantha Crockett, Sandra Baker, Pat McCartney, Jill Metz and Leslie Riddle, Local 170, and Patrice Jacobs, Peggy Price and Sekia Royall, Local 150. (Follow UExtraordinary Women on Facebook.)
In the Western Region, delegates elected Charlene Winchell as president, Larry Hopkins, Local 1177, as vice president, and Becky Dawes, Local 893, as secretary-treasurer. Bob Smith, Local 712, Teresa Willibey, Local 735, Matthew Barrett, Local 770, John Appleton, Local 777, Victoria Hilton, Local 808, David Betsworth, Local 893, Michael Goldberg, Local 896, Ashley Clemons, Local 1004, Joel Faypon, Local 1008, Fatima Anda, Local 1018, Virginia Soto, Local 1077, Shaun Mazur, Local 1107, Armando Robles, Local 1110, Malik Grant, Local 1135, Mike Plachy, Local 1139, Sharry Neidfeldt, Local 1161, Justin Thompson, Local 1187, Bryan Martindale, Local 1421, and Mo Davis, Local 1477 were elected to the region’s executive board, with Smith, Willibey, Clemons, Grant and Martindale elected to serve as at-large delegates on the General Executive Board of the National Union. Delores Phillips, Local 1118 and Brian Hudson, Local 1177 were elected as trustees, with Juliet Uata, Local 1008 elected to serve as the alternate.
In the Eastern Region, delegates elected Donna Morgan as president, Darrion Smith, Local 150, as vice president, Scott Slawson, Local 506, as secretary-treasureer, and Janet Gray, Local 618, as recording secretary. Jim Borowski, Local 106, Wes Henshaw, Local 123, Bryce Carter, Local 150, Leslie Riddle, Local 170, Kathleen Coonrod, Local 203, Margaret Dabrowski, Local 222, Bill Ladd, Local 228, Autumn Martinez, Local 255, Jay McGrath, Local 274, Bud Decker, Local 329, John Miles, Local 506, Antwon Gibson, Local 610, Karen Rizzo, Local 613, Pat Pelar, Local 625, and Steve Adkins, Local 684 were elected to the region’s executive board, with Borowski, Dabrowski, Martinez, Decker and Gibson elected to serve as at-large delegates on the General Executive Board of the National Union. Lily Moore, Local 228 and Don Brown, Local 506 were elected as trustees, with Gene Pickens, Local 170 elected to serve as the alternate.