A union membership is a lot like a gym membership – you have to show up and really make an effort if you want to get stronger.
That’s a notion that Local 1245’s organizing stewards take to heart. At the conclusion of their most recent intensive organizing seminar in February, the organizing stewards in attendance were tasked with going back to their worksites and recruiting their coworkers to attend one of the union’s Spring regional trainings. These unique trainings were designed to offer Local 1245 members a better understanding of the union, its history and its roots in organizing, as well as the critical need for member engagement in the face of existential threats to both the union movement and the utility industry.
The organizing stewards, in conjunction with their business reps, succeeded in recruiting more than 100 members to attend the regional trainings, which were held in Reno, Vacaville and Fresno during the month of May. Nearly 50% of the attendees were brand-new to the union organizing arena.
Each training included a brief history of the union and overview of IBEW 1245’s organizing program; a detailed tutorial on ‘Right to Work,” Janus v. AFSCME and other attacks on labor; and a discussion of the many industry-specific threats facing Local 1245-represented utilities in both California and Nevada.
“We worked to develop a training that not only showcases what union organizing is all about, but also empowers members to go back and spread the word to their colleagues,” explained IBEW 1245 Staff Organizer Rene Cruz Martinez.
What made these trainings so unique was that fact that they were predominantly member-led. Working closely with 1245’s organizing team, lead organizing stewards played a substantial role in both the development and facilitation of the seminars.
Organizing Stewards Rita Weisshaar and Dorine Shaner were instrumental in the day-long Reno training which took place on May 2. Currently, Local 1245’s Nevada members are facing a major threat with Question 3 — a Nevada ballot measure that seeks to deregulate the state’s utility sector – and the training gave the members an opportunity to get a better understanding of the issue and learn how they can fight back.
“It was a great day! We not only engaged our Reno active union members, but we also got to have face-to-face interaction with our organizers from Vacaville, which was very important for our 1245 Reno members,” said Shaner. “The training gave them the bigger picture of the various assaults facing organized labor, and I appreciated listening to our 1245 Reno members share on what a difference the union makes in their lives.”
“The most important and significant [component] for those who attended was learning of the different concentrated attacks on working families,” added Weisshaar. “In the last group breakout session, members decided which of their fellow members they would talk to about becoming more involved. They also signed up to walk precincts in the upcoming election.”
In Vacaville, Lead Organizing Stewards Nilda Garcia, Charlotte Stevens, Ivan Pereda, Steve Marcotte, Kim Camatti, Alyssa Fernandez, Arnaldo Lizarraga and Mike Patterson collaborated to facilitate the regional training on May 12, which drew in members from the Bay Area, Sacramento and the North Valley. The many new faces who attended the training left with a wealth of knowledge, as well as motivation to share that knowledge with others.
“I always thought that it was the employer who gave us our benefits and pay. But now I’m learning that it’s the union who got us that contract and negotiated all of that for us,” newcomer Menisha Smith, who works at the PG&E call center in Sacramento, said at the Vacaville training. “I didn’t even know what I was a part of before, but now I am feeling very empowered. I can take the key things I learned here to go back and make a difference!”
“Prior to this training, I had never heard of ‘Right to Work’ and was shocked to hear all the potential effects it could have, not only for IBEW 1245 members, but also for the whole economy,” Hector Gonzalez, who also attended the Vacaville training, reported a few days later. “Since the training, I have been proactively speaking about what I’ve learned, to not only my coworkers, but also friends and family, any chance I get.”
Lead Organizing Stewards Melissa Echeverria, Que Thompson, Ashley Finley and Miguel Pagan coordinated the Fresno training on May 19, which drew the most newcomers out of the three locations. The training provided the members with a wealth of information, and the attendees left empowered to pass along what they learned.
“I think the most important thing that was said was how important it is for us to share our knowledge and get our peers involved,” said Cindy Rodriguez, a prospective organizing steward who works at PG&E’s Fresno warehouse. “So I took 15 minutes yesterday in our all-hands tailboard to go over the notes that I took at the training with my co-workers, and I invited anyone to come talk to me anytime for more information.”
“I was impressed to see so many new faces in attendance. It’s great to see and hear others getting involved,” said Organizing Steward Teofilo Freeman, who works at the Fresno call center. “My personal highlight was the energy in the room as every table spoke about the good of the union and how we would speak to our peers to get them involved. It feels good to be a part of something so great, and I’m looking forward to making a difference and staying active.”
–Rebecca Band, IBEW 1245 Communications Director
Rene Cruz Martinez contributed to this report.