Last year, University of Vermont denied Tom Stout permission to attend the UE Convention. This year, UVM management again turned down the maintenance worker’s request — leading to the first grievance filed under the recently ratified, first-time union contract.
Stout attended the convention, bringing the thanks of his co-workers for UE’s support throughout the organizing campaign and nearly two years of negotiations. Stout, the newly elected president of UE Local 267, reported that UVM workers can already see the difference on the job created by their UE contract.
Stout spoke during an emotionally-packed afternoon of reports from the front lines of UE organizing. Workers from newly organized workplaces accepted the charters of new UE locals on behalf of their co-workers. Leaders of new UE locals reported on first-contract gains, or struggles to win the benefits of a first-time contract.
A press operator with seven years’ service, Tricia Schaubert outlined for delegates the organizing campaign at Glastic Plastics, the slow and difficult negotiations and growing solidarity effort aimed at winning a first contract. "With this solidarity and the work inside the shop I know we can win," she declared. Ron Mason, Local 758 vice president, offered the "warm and heartfelt thanks" of his co-workers for the support from Districts Six and Seven and the National union.
Local 758’s campaign for a first contract has received the assistance of Japanese unions. On their way to the podium workers from Glastic Plastics stopped to shake hands with the Zenroren delegation, to delegates’ cheers.
Accepting the charter of new UE Local 298 on behalf of her co-workers at Northeast Kingdom Community Action (NEKCA), Marie Norton-McNeal explained that she and her co-workers in the Head Start program serving northeastern Vermont joined UE because of the existing imbalance between pay and hours, for fair working conditions and a voice and respect on the job. As a result of the union NEKCA workers already feel stronger, she said.
The organizing effort at NEKCA was initiated by western Vermont Head Start workers who are members of Local 221; six of Vermont’s 13 counties are now serviced by Head Start workers who are UE members.
The support staff of the Delaware, Ohio school system "wake up, clean, maintain and put the district to bed," said bus driver Nina Williams. Accepting the charter of new UE Local 799 on behalf of her co-workers, Williams outlined the organizing campaign, which involved a lengthy wait for an election, and first contract, which eliminated a two-tier pay system and provided a significant wage increase, grievance system and seniority rights.
Frank Tracy, Local 801, and Intl. Rep. Greg Cross told delegates how Tracy and his co-workers in the South Sioux, Nebraska City School District organized the food service workers on their own. It was easy, Tracy said; the other school workers simply informed the food service workers about what the union had accomplished for them.
Volunteer organizers from the Newton, Iowa schools, Local 1187 and Local 801 helped the staff at Western Iowa Technical College (WIT) gain their union — and Dennis Mortensen and Ed Hammers, Local 1145, came before the convention to express their gratitude. "We couldn’t have done it without them," Mortensen said. The new members of Local 1145 went on to organize a solid first contract with benefits for part-timers, itself a first for WIT.
The staff of the Keokuk School District in southeastern Iowa had successfully maintained an independent union for 22 years. When they decided to affiliate with a national union, they knew where to go because they had been reading the UE NEWS for two years, reported Dan Kelley, Local 893. They have since made gains with their first UE contract and enjoy 99 percent membership sign-up, Kelley said.
Two leaders of the statewide public services local union in North Carolina, UE Local 150, told the convention of workers’ determination to organize and win improvements in living standards and working conditions, despite state law that bars bargaining. Barbara Prear, elected president at the local union’s first constitutional convention, said that workers’ struggles can force state agencies to bargain. Max Davis, shop steward, Durham City Workers, said that he and his co-workers are excited to be in UE; their independent municipal workers’ union voted earlier this year to affiliate with Local 150.
Judith Kocik and Pat Larson, among the 15 staff of The Literacy Project in Greenfield, Mass., told the convention that they and their co-workers deliberately chose UE because of its reputation — and weren’t going to be talked out of their choice by the Board of Directors. The decision to become part of Local 274 was unanimous.
Carl Rosen, District 11, co-convener of the Organizing Committee, pointed out that a series of meetings of national leadership help formulate a plan of action debated and refined by the Organizing Committee. That committee, consisting of nearly a quarter of the delegates, considered the UE 1999-2000 Organizing Plan for nearly five hours on the first day of the convention. The plan represents a challenge to every level of the union, and to the rank and file and staff alike.
At the conclusion of the convention organizing report, Norma Sprague, Local 267 chief steward, said a principal goal in negotiations was respect on the job. That goal was realized, she said; the first week after the contract was signed her pager was repeatedly beeping with calls from supervisors calling to see if they were applying the agreement correctly!
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