Being a union officer, specifically one with a local that has achieved so much in such a short period of time, ranks among the greatest accomplishments of my life. While the responsibility of serving as a union leader can at times be as stressful as it is rewarding, anyone who’s ever bargained a contract knows there’s no other occasion where those peaks and valleys of emotions are so prevalent. That was the reality of the UE Local 728 Bargaining Committee for most of the month of October 2023.
As recently as this past September, the vast majority of our nearly 400-person workforce (around 300 of which are dues paying members – no small feat in a right-to-work state) were comfortably working from home and not regularly talking to each other. Understanding the urgent need to improve communication, more than a dozen of our members joined officers in delegating contact responsibilities on a call tree. Within a matter of days, we were able to transform a fledgling spreadsheet into a powerful networking tool.
For the past couple of years, we’d taken for granted that most of our members were well-informed via Facebook posts and e-mails. After only a day of making calls, however, we soon realized there’s no substitute for one-on-one interaction. Not only did we learn that some of our members weren’t aware of our impending contract fight, we also found that several were willing to volunteer their time to the cause.
Through the efforts of these individuals, we were able to form a Contract Action Team (CAT) willing to assist in much-needed organizing efforts. The CAT made sure all our members who showed up for our first day of bargaining had plenty of buttons and signs to put on display for the company’s representatives. The groundswell of support from the membership grew throughout the week, as there was standing room only on the final scheduled day of in-person bargaining. It was on that day many members left little to the imagination when they showed up coordinated in their “WILL STRIKE IF PROVOKED” t-shirts.
While significant progress was made during the five days of in-person bargaining, we were still miles apart from the company on an acceptable wage proposal. It was at this point the call tree was utilized as a way to have very candid conversations with our members about the possibility of a strike. Quickly approaching the contract’s October 31 expiration date, we were able to obtain an overwhelming majority of our members’ signatures on a strike pledge. As a final warning just four days before the deadline, more than 100 members turned out for a rally directly across the street from our workplace. The display of signs, flags, and loud music was unlike anything the company had seen from us before.
The combined efforts of a motivated membership allowed us to obtain an 11th-hour deal well beyond what we initially expected. Could we have gotten more if we’d pulled the trigger on a strike? Sure, but not much more. I truly believe there was very little money left on the table. While it’s nothing short of amazing what our local has accomplished in just three and a half years, we’re fully aware there’s room to grow. If we’d started preparing a year, rather than just over a month, in advance, we’d have gotten more members engaged and built an even more credible threat. If we’d spotlighted a long-term effort to build our strike fund, more members would’ve gotten on board with the reality of a strike.
Even with the benefit of hindsight though, I have no regrets. I couldn’t be more proud to stand in solidarity with all the members and officers of UE Local 728. We are a force to be reckoned with now and eventually we will be unstoppable.