Western Region Council Hears Reports on Strike, Organizing Victories

April 8, 2023

The UE Western Region’s spring council meeting welcomed new locals, heard shop reports from around the region, and got a report on the March 20 one-day strike carried out by UE Local 1004 at the Henry Mayo hospital in Valencia, California. The council meeting was held the weekend of March 25 and 26.

A man and a woman at a podium
D Dassanaike (left) and Ashley Clemons (right), Local 1004.

Local 1004’s 700 members are, in the words of strike leader D Dassanaike, “the gears of the hospital.” They are techs, patient care attendants, and other support staff “who get the things done” so that nurses and doctors can do their work.

“As much as we know the healthcare industry makes a stupid amount of money, most of the people in our union work two to three jobs just to make ends meet,” Dassanaike told the council. He added that, in addition to low wages, Local 1004 members suffer from “just utter disrespect from management.” But the strike “sent a message to the hospital and to the community that we’re not backing down.”

“Our local has come a very long way and we have put up a very great fight for the contract,” said Ashley Clemons, a Local 1004 leader who also serves as the Secretary-Treasurer for the Western Region. Local 1004 is still in negotiations for a new contract.

The council also heard from four large new graduate worker locals who have recently joined UE.

Two women speaking at a podium
Lindley Hornsby (left) and Hannah Melick (right), Local 1498.

Leaders from the Northwestern University Graduate Workers and Graduate Students United at the University of Chicago reported on their recent NLRB victories. Both groups won union elections in January by margins of over 90 percent; each group now represents over 3,000 workers.

United Graduate Workers-UE Local 1466 at the University of New Mexico and UE Local 1498-Graduate Workers United at New Mexico State University both settled their first UE contracts in December, covering 1600 and 900 workers respectively. Leaders from each local explained how they won their contracts through the tried-and-true UE tactics of mobilizing their membership to put direct pressure on their bosses. They also reported on their political action efforts to overturn New Mexico’s ban on public-sector strikes.

“When working class people stand together anything is possible.”

In his president’s report, Western Region President Bryan Martindale spoke about two important opportunities for the labor movement: nationalizing the railroads and organizing the unorganized.

Martindale said that nationalizing the railroads would help avert disasters like the recent train wreck in East Palestine, OH, because public ownership would reinvest profits back into safety and infrastructure instead of handing them over to Wall Street. He also reminded delegates that President Biden asked Congress to intervene in contract negotiations in the rail industry last fall, prohibiting workers from striking but failing to grant them even their most basic demand for sick time.

“This just proved what we in UE have known all along, that Joe Biden is not our friend, and will always side with big business over workers,” Martindale said. “The only way to get politicians like Joe Biden to side with us is to come together and demand it.”

Public ownership of the railroads “is pretty much the standard elsewhere in the world,” he said, and “it’s time it becomes a reality in the United States as well.”

Turning to the opportunities for organizing the unorganized, Martindale said that for UE, the current upsurge in worker organizing is happening mostly in universities, and pointed out that the council meeting was being attended by representatives of four new graduate worker locals.

“The potential is great,” he concluded. “When working class people stand together anything is possible.”

“Socialism for the rich and capitalism for the rest of us”

UE General President Carl Rosen gave the national officer report, in which he noted that the types of fights going on in UE shops are part of a national working-class upsurge. “The working class is extremely frustrated by decades and decades of the rich getting richer and the rest of us being left behind,” he said.

Addressing the recent Congressional bailout of Silicon Valley Bank, Rosen called it “socialism for the rich and capitalism for the rest of us.” Working people “don’t get bailed out in the same way” when we are faced with loss of our jobs, a healthcare crisis, or anything else that threatens our livelihoods.

The November elections left the country in a standoff between “an increasingly right-wing Republican Party with an extreme anti-union agenda” and “a Democratic Party with a leadership that’s basically pro-corporate,” Rosen said. He also noted that in the international arena, there are “a lot of dangerous games going on” as the Biden administration ramps up tensions with China and Russia, and that “in both cases, the increasingly tense relations are being used to justify ever-increasing, bloated military spending.”

He suggested that when the history of the current conflict in Ukraine is written, it will be seen primarily as a war over oil and other natural resources, and as a reflection of competition between some of the largest corporations in the world. Just like World War I, Rosen said, this war is mostly a fight over colonies and markets, and “a dangerous game of brinkmanship at the expense of workers in all countries.”

Rosen also urged delegates to pay close attention to three important upcoming sets of negotiations: the Teamster contract covering 350,000 UPS workers, the UAW contract with the Big Three automakers, and UE Locals 506 and 618’s contract with Wabtec in Erie, PA. The Teamsters and UAW have both recently elected new, more militant leadership, and both of these high-profile, national contract fights “will have real ripple effects on the rest of us.”

He reported that Local 506, which has “a history of engaging its members in militant fights for the highest standards,” is intending to win back their right to strike over grievances mid-contract. “What this is really about is who controls that workplace floor,” Rosen said, because “when things get diverted into a grievance procedure [and arbitration], the boss is getting away with murder in the meantime.”

“Despite all the roadblocks and negative forces,” he concluded, “we have very good reasons to be optimistic” because of the “increasing number of workers who are standing up for themselves” across the country.

Workers “screaming to get involved”

Delegates to the regional council participated in a workshop, “Building Union Power,” which was a condensed version of the four-part online series that UE has run twice in the past year. Education Director Kari Thompson asked delegates to imagine what their workplaces would be like if workers had as much power as they needed — answers including bosses being held accountable, safer workplaces, better family life and “all profits going to the people who do the work.” Then they discussed how to identify winnable workplace issues and involve members in escalating campaigns to win those issues, in order to build the union’s power.

Jessica Van Eman speaking at a podium
Local 1477 President Jessica Van Eman.

Local 1477 President Jessica Van Eman, who participated in the full four-part workshop series this past winter, shared that it had helped her realize that van safety would be a good issue to organize her co-workers around. (Local 1477 is one of six UE locals representing Hallcon rail crew drivers, who drive railroad workers to and from work.) In her shop report, she reported on how successful this workplace campaign has been. In addition to keeping workers out of unsafe vans, her co-workers are “screaming to get involved and make the company do what they’re supposed to do.”

Leaders of other UE Hallcon locals — Doris Kissee of Local 716, Virginia Miranda and Diana Martinez of Local 1077, and Cedric Whelchel of Local 1177, also reported on efforts to keep drivers safe in their locations. “Everyone that works for Hallcon deserves to be in a safe vehicle,” declared Whelchel. Workers come to work to pay for the necessities of life, he said, and “They need to return home safe.”

UE locals from a variety of other economic sectors — federal contractors, manufacturing, social services and food co-ops — also gave reports about recent and upcoming contract negotiations, mid-contract negotiations to raise wages, and organizational efforts to build membership involvement.


Council delegates re-elected President Bryan Martindale, Vice President Larry Hopkins, Local 1177, and Secretary-Treasurer Ashley Clemons, Local 1004. Doris Kissee, Local 716, Kevin White, Local 728, Andrew Moore, Local 770, Chuck Davis, Local 777, Victoria Hilton, Local 808, Hannah Zadeh, Local 896, Nandell Baines, Local 977, D Dassanaike, Local 1004, Fred Hatef, Local 1008, Eric Escobar, Local 1018, Diana Martinez, Local 1077, Nicole Usher, Local 1107, Delores Phillips, Local 1118, Tammie Jarrett, Local 1121, Mike Plachy, Local 1139, Cedric Whelchel, Local 1177, Mike Tomaloff, Local 1186, Thai Nguyen, Local 1187, Sabir Sabir, Local 1421, and Jessica Van Eman, Local 1477 were elected to the region’s executive board; Hatef, Martinez, Phillips, Tomaloff and Van Eman were elected as the region’s at-large representatives to the General Executive Board. Melissa Hamblin, Local 728 and Virginia Miranda, Local 1077 were elected as trustees; Chuck Davis, Local 777, was elected as the alternate trustee.

More photos from the council meeting are available on the UE Facebook page.


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