Why unions matter
Local 1245 leadership development conference
Welcome tooooo … Labor Jeopardy!
Fifty-five members of Local 1245 got a taste of that classic TV game show at the union’s most recent Leadership Development Conference on March 16 at Weakley Hall in Vacaville. Only the topic wasn’t history, geography, or popular culture. It was “Why Unions Matter.”
With Donchele Soper serving as host, the game featured inspired performances from four contestants, each offering a unique perspective on the economic realities of today. Competing to be the first to ding the bell with their answers were Kirk Haugen, playing the part of a union member, and Veronica Rivera, playing a recent college graduate. Things got a little stranger with the performance of Pete Sandoval, who came dressed in a floppy gardening hat and revealed himself to be a laid-off worker who had taken on two jobs to make ends meet.
But it was Tanny Hurtado who stole the show, portraying a corporate CEO blissfully out of touch with the economic realities faced by the rest of us. At one point, confronted with some information he didn’t want to hear, Hurtado abruptly excused himself and walked out of the room to “take a call” on his cell phone.
No, this wasn’t your usual union conference, but instead a fast-paced and participatory look at unions today: why they matter, and how to get yourself plugged into the action.
Casey Salkauskas, a PG&E electrician from Bakersfield and 12-year IBEW member, was surprised to find so many other people of all ages who shared his interest in building unionism.
“There were linemen and electricians to Call Center employees and clerks, tree trimmers to water and irrigation workers, all of us with the thirst for knowledge and the enthusiasm to help our brothers and sisters in our trades,” Salkauskas said.
High energy, strong participation and an eagerness for more opportunities to become involved characterized the day.
Organizer Fred Ross Jr. discussed the power of “sharing your story,” illustrating the point with his own personal story and a short video of a farm worker organizer sharing hers.
“The stories shared made me realize the power we have together,” said Georgette Carrillo, a Fresno Customer Service Rep and two-year IBEW member. “Fred’s story inspired me to want to get more involved in the union.”
Organizer Jennifer Gray spoke about mobilizing for action, including Local 1245’s pivotal role in defeating the anti-union Proposition 32 last fall. She invited conference participants to sign up for the upcoming Local 1245 Earth Day activities on April 13.
There were many takers.
The conference also took a look at the upcoming “Our Wal-Mart Campaign,” an organization of Wal-Mart workers calling on Wal-Mart to improve labor rights and standards for its workers.
People signed up for that, too.
There were several workshops, led by the conference planning committee members: Donchele Soper, Veronica Rivera, Kirk Haugen, Tanny Hurtado, and Pete Sandoval. The Sacramento-area organizing committee, which will soon hold its second annual charity bowl, received a lot of attention as a model for other areas.
Eric Wolfe presented a brief history of Local 1245, helping to deepen members’ appreciation of those who came before.
“I am very thankful for my job now and what it has to offer me, but I realize this would not be possible if it weren’t for our union setting such a great foundation,” said Ricardo Hernandez, a PG&E Customer Service Rep. “Our foundation has been built, and now it’s our responsibility to continue to pave the way for generations to come.”
When a shop steward at the conference called him “brother,” it made Hernandez think about the word in a new way.
“It felt so powerful to hear that. I can smile in my day knowing I have brothers and sisters who will look out for me, as I will for them.”