by Josh Israel, ThinkProgress
Training A New Generation Of Leaders
Though the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 1245 is one of the more successful local unions – with a large base of well-paid workers in California and Nevada – a few years back its officers decided to give some thought to who would carry their banner after its current generation of leaders. With that in mind, it launched an ambitious leadership training program for a select group of promising union members.
Local 1245 communications director Eric Wolfe told ThinkProgress, “The thinking was as we look to replace current staff, we should be looking to people who have organizing experience. The way to give people organizing experience was to get them involved in organizing.” In addition to training with experienced organizers, the new leaders were sent them into the field “so they could get their hands dirty with organizing work,” including union organizing campaigns, political actions, and other solidarity work. After dispatching these organizers to assist with an ordinance fight in Alaska, a recall election in Wisconsin, and a ballot campaign in Ohio, Wolfe said that when an anti-union initiative reached the ballot in California in 2012, “we found we had a cadre of people to fight, here in California, a battle directly affecting our members.”
One of the first leaders in this leadership program – now formally recognized as union “Organizing Stewards” – was Jammi Juarez. A customer service representative working in a call center for Pacific Gas & Electric, Juarez was shocked when her then-14-year-old daughter expressed a view that unions were bad. “That’s when I took on the mission to change the world,” she told ThinkProgress. She started with her own children, dragging them to canvasses and phone banks and showing them what her union did.
Juarez has since traveled around the country, helping to organize asuccessful union vote at an Illinois tool plant and to bring a new manufacturing company in Sacramento into her own local. “It’s life changing,” she said, “It gives you a sense of the things that need to happen. And if you don’t do it, who will do it? We have an energized group ready for any task assigned.” Local 1245 brought Juarez aboard full-time in April as a organizer.
Wolfe also noted that to boost member involvement and engagement – and help the local communities – the Local 1245 executive board has created a fund for its various regional units to sponsor local charitable efforts. “Dozens of units around California and Nevada are now sponsoring Little League teams, mural restoration projects, women’s resource centers, and community fishing events,” he explained. “It’s been gratifying to see how many people are excited about making change in the world – but you’ve gotta ask them and give them an opportunity. That same kind of untapped potential exists throughout the country among union members. Hopefully a substantial minority of people who want to become more involved.”
Wolfe hopes others across the labor movement will so find ways to energize and activate new leadership: “Action tends to beget more action, so if you create some energy, it will tend to build on itself if it’s nurtured.”