When our brothers and sisters in Indiana asked for assistance building their membership at a local manufacturing plant, Local 1245 answered the call.
In mid-February, a team of Local 1245 Organizing Stewards, comprised of Miguel Pagan, Rene Cruz-Martinez, Lorenso Arciniega, Lorae Andreason and myself, Nilda Garcia, flew to Indiana to help IBEW Local 1424 grow its union membership at Faurecia, a manufacturing company that makes vehicle exhaust systems.
The company employs 870 workers at its Indiana plant, many of whom are native Spanish-speakers. Local 1424 represents the workers at Faurecia, but since Indiana is a “Right to Work” state and Faurecia is an open shop, the union has struggled to build and maintain a strong membership base. When we arrived, only 356 of the workers were dues-paying members, which meant we had more than 500 opportunities to sign non-members up to be a part of the union.
Back in 1989, the company and the union engaged in a year-long strike, and the memory of that experience has made some of the senior workers hesitant to join the union. But we didn’t let that deter us. We joined up with dozens of other IBEW organizers from across the country, along with the team from Local 1424, and launched an aggressive door-to-door blitz, with the goal of talking to every Faurecia worker about the benefits of union membership.
As Organizing Stewards, we’ve been trained on what it takes to be the “boots on the ground” for this type of campaign, so we focused on having as many face-to-face conversations as we possibly could. We started with 513 homes to visit, and by end of the first day, we had already knocked on 90% of those doors. By the time we completed the blitz, every house had been visited at least twice.
We worked tirelessly every day, from early morning to late in the evening, to get those conversations going and educate the workers. Many of them didn’t even know about the union, or what it meant to join. We had to explain how important it was to be an active member of the union, especially given the fact that the union contract will be expiring in March of 2017.
Through the one-on-one conversations we had with the workers, our 1245 team quickly identified several workplace safety issues at the plant. Rene and Lorae had an extremely eye-opening conversation with one female worker who had been run over by a fork lift at the workplace. She was still limping and had never received worker’s compensation, so we pulled Local 1424 Business Manager Jerry Wagner in to help with this particular case.
By identifying the issues that mattered to the workers and explaining how the union could help them, our blitz team was able to sign up 52 new members in a week, bringing the Local from 38% membership up to a solid 48%. We left an additional 72 membership applications for local stewards to collect, which, once collected, would push Local 1424 up to 55% membership at the plant.
“The Indiana Blitz showed me that even in a ‘Right to Work’ state, union values can prevail,” said Local 1245 Organizing Steward Miguel Pagan. “Our message was simple: ‘You don’t always get what you deserve… but you will get what you negotiate.’”
The Spanish-speaking workers were glad to have us there, and our 1245 team identified seven Spanish-speaking workers who now want to become shop stewards. Lorenso put together a Spanish membership welcome packet, to make sure the Local had the resources for these employees after we left. We also shared many ideas with Local 1424 about member engagement based on the activities that our Local does, like community service, soccer tournaments, bowling events and other recreational activities.
It was a satisfying experience knowing that we made a difference and we helped our IBEW brothers and sisters. Securing a union majority at a manufacturing facility in a “Right to Work” state is a huge deal, and we have received lots of gracious appreciation and thanks from the other organizers we worked with in Indiana.
“I am a new organizer and got to work with each one of [the Local 1245 Organizing Stewards]. I had never done house calling before, and they went above and beyond to help me,” said IBEW Kentucky Lead Organizer Chad Donathan. “They taught me a lot to use in future campaigns. Their work ethic, knowledge and love for this organization should be recognized, so I wanted to thank the Local for the opportunity to work with these fine young workers.”
“Thank you to Local 1245! Your assistance and help cannot be measured, and we have all commented on how much we have learned from you and the other organizers,” said IBEW Regional Organizing Coordinator Lynn Arwood. “We changed minds, got the workers in the plant talking about the IBEW, and started a movement. The work here is not done, but together we made a difference.”
As always, I am grateful for our union and for our Organizing Steward program. We are so lucky to have great leadership and the vision of our Business Manager, Tom Dalzell. We accomplished so much, not only for Local 1424, but for also for the International IBEW. If we were able to bring union membership at Faurecia up 10% in five days, we can just imagine what they’ll accomplish by March of 2017!
I always ask my co-workers if they can picture working for a company without a union, collective bargaining, safety or job security. I absolutely can, and that is why I chose to get involved with the union. This experience has solidified my commitment to the union even more. We are working people standing together!
Nilda Garcia is an IBEW 1245 Organizing Steward who works at the PG&E Sacramento Contact Center.