by Eileen Purcell, IBEW 1245 Staff Organizer
A group IBEW 1245 organizing stewards, prospective organizing stewards and staff organizers participated in an all-day “Troublemakers School” with representatives of the California labor movement at Berkeley City College on Oct. 17.
California Labor Federation President Kathryn Lybarger (from AFSCME Local 3299) opened the day with a warm welcome to the one hundred activists and underscored the urgency of these times and importance of labor unity.
“Labor realizes we are facing a crisis,” said Lybarger.
“We are under some of the most aggressive, sustained attacks on unions in twenty years. Employers are coming after our standards…It’s not just bosses, it’s politicians…and the Supreme Court is getting ready to clip our wings,” added Mark Brenner, the organizing director of Labor Notes — the national organization that sponsors day-long “Troublemaker Schools” in major cities across the country.
But Brenner also pointed to the fighting spirit of the labor movement and noted that there is good news: as the attacks increase, unions are investing more in member-to-member organizing and coalition-building.
Jovanha Beckles, a labor activist, leader of the Richmond Progressive Alliance and member of the Richmond City Council, shared the story of how labor and community allies beat Chevron-backed candidates in the recent election, despite the $3 million dollar campaign that the oil company launched to “beat us and to spread lies,” according to Beckles. How did they do it? By building coalitions, using grassroots organizing methods, going door-to-door and having one-on-one conversations. Or, as Beckles put it, “by being real.”
IBEW 1245 Organizing Stewards Nilda Garcia (PG&E Sacramento) and Rene Cruz-Martinez (PG&E Concord) led a workshop on member engagement and shared IBEW 1245’s organizing steward program.
“How do you get members involved?’ asked Garcia. “Invite them! Educate, organize and mobilize them!”
And above all, keep pushing.
Garcia and Cruz-Martinez described the various ways the union’s organizing steward program works to engage members, from recreational events such as the annual Charity Bowl, to precinct walking for candidates and campaigns, to monthly unit meetings, trainings and conferences.
The workshop “opened my eyes to different routes you can take to engage others within the company to become part of the Union,” said prospective organizing steward Ashley Boles (PG&E Call Center Fresno).
Organizing Steward Rita Weisshaar (NV Energy, retired) participated on a panel to share the NV Energy contract fight story, chronicling the three-year fight to restore healthcare benefits that the company unilaterally cut, despite promises that were made at the bargaining table.
“We organized the first picket lines in 65 years, and we traversed the State of Nevada and the country, following NV Energy executives to remind them to keep their word. The victory for the retirees was a result of continued activism, ongoing work with our faith and labor allies, our social media strategy, and above all, our commitment to fight for the duration,” stressed Weisshaar.
In addition to Garcia, Weisshaar, Cruz-Martinez and Boles, prospective organizing stewards Arnaldo Lizarraga (Trayer), Julie Gonzalez (PG&E Sacramento), Sandi Busse (PG&E Sacramento) and Ricardo Hernandez (PG&E Sacramento) participated in the day.