The IBEW 1245 organizing team welcomed upwards of 70 organizing stewards, prospective organizing stewards, and staff to the final training session of the year at the Sunrise Banquet Center in late October. This training was focused on why politics matters; the importance of engaging and mobilizing members; and the difference that the union has made in our own lives.
Senior Assistant Business Manager Anthony Brown welcomed the organizing stewards on behalf of Business Manager Bob Dean (who was traveling on union business), and celebrated the incredible success of the organizing steward program. He pointed out the many victories that our member-driven organizing program has helped achieve – most recently in beating back the union busting SB 284.
“We are the biggest, baddest local union on this planet,” Brown told the room full of current and prospective organizing stewards. “Our influence extends well beyond the union hall here in Vacaville … But that strength is tenuous, unless we plan for it, strategize for it and fight for it.”
Brown offered the organizers a comprehensive ‘state of the union’ and answered questions before the organizing stewards delved into a candid conversation on the role that politics plays in the lives of 1245 members. Political Director Hunter Stern offered a broad overview of the various obstacles and opportunities we face in the coming months and years; highlighting the major opportunities to grow our union as investments in manufacturing, clean energy and infrastructure ramp up.
“As utility employees, doing your job well as you do gives us collective power and strength,” he told the stewards. “It’s not politics – It’s service. It shows our sincerity, which is something that’s lacking in politics.”
Stern emphasized that, in the coming years, politicians will be making countless decisions that will impact the current and future state of our members’ work, and it is essential to do all we can to elect allies that we can count on to stand with us – from the utility districts to the Legislature.
One shining example is Assemblymember Liz Ortega. A former union organizer and labor leader, Ortega took her strongly held values with her to the State Legislature, where she’s continued her fight for the Labor Movement.
“I’m 100% with union. When I’m in the room and unions are not there, I still have their backs,” Ortega told the organizing stewards in the keynote speech she delivered during the training. “This year, one of my first bills was to educate our youth about the real Union Movement of today — and our youth need to know about this, because they are going into the workforce.”
She explained how her bill, AB 800, would establish an added week of workplace readiness to California’s student curriculum, including education around workplace rights, wages, health and safety, and how to organize a union. Her inspiring speech led into a breakout session where the stewards shared how politics affects them in their everyday lives. Many of the members expressed gratitude for the fact that 1245 gave them a pathway to the middle class, and some spoke with deep passion about the role every member can play when it comes to keeping the union strong for generations to come.
“My dad taught me not everyone would understand or agree, but if you believe in it, you stand up and fight,” said Organizing Steward Nikki Bryant as she recounted her experience growing up with an activist father, and passing that activism along to her own children. “I remember standing in front of the Capitol as a little girl, and wishing that one day I could be in there … This last year, I got to in quite a few times! My own kids think it’s incredible.”
The organizers then heard from Chloe Osmer, the organizing director of the California Labor Federation, which represents more than two million workers in over 1,000 local unions. She applauded the organizing model developed at IBEW 1245 as an example of what local unions ought to be doing across the country to capitalize on the increasingly positive public perception of unions.
“71% of people in the United States are in favor of unions, but 10.1% of workers are in a union,” she pointed out. “We have to change that. We have to make sure that everything we do is connected to organizing.”
With that in mind, the organizers went into their final breakout session of the day, to think through a plan to start connecting with their co-workers around union involvement and political participation. The training concluded with an overview of the various organizing steward-coordinated events coming up, from charitable community service activities to exciting social gatherings.
To learn more and get involved in IBEW 1245’s organizing steward program, email firstname.lastname@example.org.
–Rebecca Band, IBEW 1245 Communications Director
Eileen Purcell contributed to this article.
Photos by John Storey