By Eileen Purcell, IBEW 1245 staff organizer
When the workers at his facility began organizing to join IBEW 1245 in 2013, Sunoptics assembler Todd Davis found himself taking on a new role – that of a union organizer and leader. He stepped up and helped run a successful organizing campaign that resulted in a victorious union election at Sunoptics in January 2014.
But even though he has the experience of forming a union from the ground up, Davis discovered that he still had a lot to learn about union organizing when he attended the AFL-CIO’s three-day intensive Organizing Institute, which took place at Weakley Hall during the last weekend in June.
“This training was not easy,” Davis remarked. “I assumed I knew some stuff, but I didn’t.”
Davis was one of fifteen IBEW 1245 organizing stewards and prospective organizing stewards who participated in the Organizing Institute workshop. Two brothers from IBEW 441 and a staffer from the Sacramento Central Labor Council were also in attendance. AFL-CIO Organizing Institute staffers Patricia Recinos and Tiffany Lake led the training, and were joined by several facilitators from the IBEW, including 9th District Organizing Director Bob Brock, IBEW organizer Rick Thompson, and Local 1245 staff organizers Fred Ross, Jammi Juarez and myself.
The workshop focused on honing the specific skills that every organizer needs in his or her toolbox, including articulating the union difference and inoculating workers against the bosses’ attacks, setting goals, identifying issues, developing actions, building committees, crafting messages and creating catchy slogans. They learned about the characteristics of a good organizer and a good leader, and watched the anti-union video Target management uses in their new employee orientations attacking unions.
But the centerpiece of the training was the one-on-one conversation and relationship-building activity. Participants examined the component parts of an effective organizing conversation and practiced each part, role-playing with each other and with the facilitators. They also practiced active listening, the art of the open-ended question, and techniques to “draw out the story.” They discovered that understanding the hopes and concerns of would-be union members is key when it comes to motivating them to take public action. The capstone of the experience involved conducting two simulated 30-minute house visits as part of a mock organizing drive at a manufacturing plant.
“You guys inspire me”
The feedback from participants was overwhelmingly positive.
“I loved this training,” said seasoned Organizing Steward Nilda Garcia. “I am very proud to be part of IBEW, and I love organizing!”
Prospective Organizing Steward Todd Davis, the former leader of the Sunoptics organizing campaign, had two big take-aways: “The Union changes lives,” and it’s imperative to “get our members involved.”
Chris Hahn, also one of the leaders of the Sunoptics fight, said, “It was an honor to be here. It was tough and I struggled, but I can learn to be a better leader.”
“The training was not what I expected,” said Neal Lauzon, an inside wireman and President of IBEW Local 441. “Most trainings are boring – you sit there and listen. This was the opposite. It changed my approach to talking with folks in five or fifteen minutes.”
Theresa Hernandez from the recently organized unit at the City of Lompoc thanked the group and said “IBEW is in my heart. I feel like we are brothers and sisters. I learned so much. I love you guys.”
An unexpected bonus was the presence of 12-year old Madison, daughter of NV Energy Organizing Steward Veronica Rivera. Madison participated actively over the three days, and even spoke about the union difference. At the end of the workshop, after everyone else had given their feedback, the youngster stood up in front of the group and said, “Thank you, I thank every one of you in this room, especially my mom. You guys inspire me.”
Each participant left the day with a certificate of achievement from the AFL-CIO Organizing Institute inscribed with the quote:
“If there is no struggle, there is no progress. Those who profess to favor freedom, and yet depreciate agitation, want crops without plowing the ground. They want rain without thunder and lightning. They want the ocean without the awful roar of its many waters. This struggle may be a moral one; or it may be a physical one; or it may be both moral and physical; but it must be a struggle. Power concedes nothing without a demand. It never did and never will. “ — Frederick Douglass
- Sandi Busse (PG&E Sacramento Call Center)
- Todd Davis (Sunoptics)
- Nilda Garcia (PG&E Sacramento Call Center)
- Chris Hahn (Sunoptics)
- Theresa Hernandez (City of Lompoc)
- Ricardo Hernandez (PG&E Sacramento Call Center)
- Arnaldo Lizzarago (Trayer)
- Kristen Rasmussen (PG&E Stockton Call Center)
- Veronica Rivera (NV Energy)
- Madison Rivera (daughter of Veronica)
- Luis Sotomayor (PG&E Grass Valley)
- Eric Sunderland (SMUD)
- Andrew West (PG&E Grass Valley)
- John O’Neill (IBEW Local 441)
- Neal Lauzon (IBEW Local 441)
- Tamie Dramer (Sacramento Central Labor Council)
- Patricia Recinos & Tiffany Lake, AFL-CIO Organizing Institute
- Fred Ross, Jammi Juarez & Eileen Purcell, IBEW 1245
- Rick Thompson & Bob Brock, IBEW