Unity Theme of Western Region Council Meeting

April 16, 2024

Representatives of locals from Ohio to California gathered for the first-ever UE regional council meeting in New Mexico, “The Land of Enchantment,” from April 13-14. Unity of workers and of the working class was a recurring theme as delegates, guests, and regional and national UE leaders discussed the victories and struggles in the union’s Western Region over the past half a year.

In his president’s report, Western Region President Bryan Martindale said that the only answer to racism, gender discrimination, corporate greed, and massive income and wealth inequality is to unite the working class to fight for an economy and a government that works for everyone.

“If we’re going to get anything, if we’re going to get ahead in this life, we need to fight,” he said. “The only way we have ever got anything done in this country is by getting out in the streets.”

Martindale decried the “damned if we do, damned if we don’t choice for our nation’s highest office” and suggested that the way to deal with “a corrupt political system” is by forming a labor party. He also condemned the “new McCarthyism” being directed at critics of Israel’s war against the Palestinian people, and of the U.S. government’s support of that war. “If ... you speak out at all against the genocide, you’re labelled anti-Semitic. The same way Joe McCarthy and his cronies labelled people as ‘communist’ if they didn’t agree with the propaganda of that time.”

The council meeting also heard from Eastern Region President George Waksmunski and Vice President Antwon Gibson, who were visiting their sister region as guests. (Martindale and Western Region Vice President Larry Hopkins will visit the Eastern Region’s council meeting in North Carolina later this month.)

In his remarks, Waksmunski urged delegates to take to heart the emphasis on uniting all workers in the preamble to the UE Constitution. “Capitalists, who own everything, are trying to divide us,” he said, and in order to maintain a decent life, “we have to stay united as workers.” Gibson praised the exchange between regions as an opportunity to “learn from one another, educate one another, [because] that’s how we grow.”

“Our power lies with unity with the rest of the working class”

In the Organizing Report, Director of Organization Mark Meinster also made reference to the preamble of the UE Constitution and UE’s core principles, one of which is that “our core mission is to organize the unorganized, that our power lies with unity with the rest of the working class.”

However, he said, “we have to constantly renew” the union’s commitment to that mission through democratic debate and decision-making. He pointed out that if UE had not maintained that commitment, and made the decision to organize in sectors outside of the union’s traditional base in manufacturing, there would be far fewer delegates in the room. “That’s the reality under this system,” he said, “that if we stand still, we lose members until we die.”

“At every turn” in UE history, he said, “the decision was made to lean into that principle, organize the unorganized,” and as a result in 2023 UE organized more new members than any other union in the country. Those new members were overwhelmingly graduate workers who “did the heavy lifting themselves.”

“Member-run unionism is how this is happening,” Meinster said as he introduced Local 728 President Kevin White, whose local took the initiative to organize a group of workers at their facility.

“Maintenance workers at our facility, after taking a look at our second contract, decided they would like to have a union for themselves,” White said, and after discussion on the local executive board, “we decided that we had no business of standing in the way of anyone who wanted a union in their shop.” White is now leading bargaining for a first contract for the nine workers, which he reported is going well.

Ashley Bernardo of host local Local 1466-United Graduate Workers at the University of New Mexico then introduced representatives of four new graduate worker locals.

Top to bottom: Jack Hamill and Elisabeth Latawiec, Local 1122; Ksenia Podvoiskaia and Soham Sinha, Local 1103; Noah Wexler and Alex Provan, Local 1105; Nadine Humphrey, Local 1043.

Elisabeth Latawiec and Jack Hamill of Local 1122-Northwestern University Graduate Workers reported how they won a first contract which will raise wages by 22 percent after 2,000 workers pledged to strike if an acceptable agreement was not reached. After “an intense and lively discussion,” the membership approved the tentative agreement by a wide margin in March.

Ksenia Podvoiskaia and Soham Sinha of Local 1103-Graduate Students United at the University of Chicago described how a “really active” contract action team, focused on “the day-to-day work of getting the membership involved,” was crucial to winning a first contract which provides “a huge, huge increase” to graduate salaries, a strong grievance procedure, and other important wins.

From Local 1105, the University of Minnesota Graduate Labor Union, Alex Provan and Noah Wexler described their negotiations for a first contract. Provan described how the union demonstrated support for their bargaining positions by signing up two-thirds of the bargaining unit on a petition ratifying their economic proposals in March. However, Wexler said, the university has not yet responded to those proposals. “It’s pretty clear that we’re going to have to pick a big fight” with them in the fall, he said.

Parth Nobel and Nadine Humphrey of Local 1043-Stanford Graduate Workers Union also gave an update on their negotiations for a first contract. Nobel characterized the university’s strategy in bargaining as “delay, delay, delay,” and explained some of the health and safety issues that Stanford grad workers face. Humphrey outlined the union’s economics platform, which they had just launched the day before. Chief among them is housing — “We essentially live in a company town,” Humphrey said; 90 percent of Local 1043 members get their housing from Stanford.

“UE is on the move”

Giving the National Officer Report, UE General Secretary-Treasurer Andrew Dinkelaker described how the plans undertaken by the union’s membership over the last several years to address the union’s financial situation are working. Thanks to a “significant upfront investment in organizing the unorganized,” he said, “I can stand here today and say that we are turning the corner.”

UE Secretary-Treasurer Andrew Dinkelaker.

Dinkelaker also addressed the “ongoing tragedy” in Palestine, the 2024 presidential election, and the Supreme Court. The decisions being made by the court’s right-wing majority, undermining abortion rights, affirmative action, LGBTQ+ rights, and workers’ right to strike, are “a true corrosion of an important arm of American democracy,” he said.

However, UE members are actively fighting back. The union will have one of its largest-ever delegations going to the Labor Notes conference this coming weekend, the Women’s Leadership Program is up and running, and in May the union will bring a worker-to-worker exchange to Mexico. Today, Dinkelaker said, “UE is on the move. This is all due to the work that you all have been engaged in.”

Dinkelaker also led members through an exercise of identifying both examples and opportunities for their locals to increase membership participation and build new leaders.

“Stick together and we will make it in this world”

Unity, and stories about how unity in the shop has helped locals win not only good contracts but also grievances, was also a theme in the shop reports. Judith Lopez, Local 1421, reported that when her employer, Tree Island, wanted to impose 12-hour shifts, the union circulated a petition and talked to every member, winning a reduction in the new shifts to 10 hours. Thai Nguyen, Local 1187, described how his local won “a long battle” over a 75-cent premium for welding certifications because “the members had our back.”

Emma Croushore, Local 896, said her local has launched a campaign to “end the fees” that the University of Iowa has been imposing on its graduate workers, as a backdoor form of tuition. The local used a petition as an organizing tool to do person-to-person organizing, department meetings, and phone banks, delivering it in a big public action after they got a majority of graduate workers to sign it. The campaign, she said, has been great for bringing in new members.

Kellye Allen, Local 1107, reported that for the first time in the history of her local, all the positions on the union’s executive board are held by women. She also reported on several grievances the local has recently won. “UE sticks together, we’re a family,” said Allen. “Stick together and we will make it in this world.”

Political Action, Education and Elections

Ramona Malczynski, Local 1466.

During the Political Action Report, Ramona Malczynski, Local 1466, told delegates how her local won $2 million in additional funding for graduate worker compensation from the New Mexico legislature. The local created their own one-page handout and their own talking points, and brought members to the state capitol in Santa Fe to talk to legislators, especially those on the house and senate finance committees. The local’s next political action priority is to win the right to strike for public-sector workers, she said.

Delegates voted to endorse the candidacy of Dan Osborn, the former leader of the 2021 strike at the Kellogg’s plant in Omaha, Nebraska who is running for U.S. Senate as an independent. Osborn had previously been endorsed by Local 808, which represents several hundred workers at the USCIS Service Center in Lincoln. The council also voted to endorse California Assembly Bill 2200, the Guaranteed Health Care for All Act, which would establish a single-payer, Medicare for All-style healthcare system in the state.

During the Education Report, Delores Phillips, Local 1118, reported on the new UE Women’s Leadership Program. The program has already had its first meeting, during which participants shared their experiences as women in the union and in the workplace. There are “some spirited ladies in that group,” Phillips said.

Delegates re-elected President Bryan Martindale and Vice President Larry Hopkins, Local 1077, and elected Mike Tomaloff, Local 1186, as Secretary-Treasurer.

Kevin White, Local 728, Andrew Moore, Local 770, Jackson Thomas, Local 808, Jacob Payne, Local 896, Nandell Baines, Local 977, Dhananja Dassanaike, Local 1004, Manuela Aguilar, Local 1008, Eric Escobar, Local 1018, Diana Martinez, Local 1077, Kellye Allen, Local 1107, Delores Phillips, Local 1118, Mike Plachy, Local 1139, Cedric Whelchel, Local 1177, Beth White, Local 1186, Thai Nguyen, Local 1187, Judith Lopez, Local 1421, Ramona Malczynski, Local 1466, Ray Silva, Local 1477, and Lindley Hornsby, Local 1498 were elected to the region’s executive board; White, Payne, Martinez, Phillips, and Malczynski were elected to represent the region on the General Executive Board. Melissa Hamblin, Local 728 and Leticia Robles, Local 1077 were elected as trustees, and Kevin Sites, Local 1186, as alternate trustee.

During Good and Welfare, Vice President Hopkins read the names of five Hallcon drivers who have passed away recently, and the council observed a moment of silence for Bernard NemesWilliam HicksTyrone StovallDale Shake, and Malissa Gollaher.

Officers, executive board members, and trustees of the Western Region are sworn in.


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