From top: Erie ROC members take the UE message to unorganized
workers. Field Org. Mary McGinn facilitates a discussion on organizing
targets in the Erie area. The Vermont ROC considers organizing
possibilities at the Burlington meeting; from left Intl. Rep. Kim
Lawson, Doug Whitcomb and Earl Oldenburg. The Milwaukee ROC discusses
organizing in Wisconsin’s largest city.
It’s a simple but powerful idea — and, from what
participants are saying, exciting, too: UE members not only involved in
organizing the unorganized but taking responsibility for organizing as
Membership participation in organizing took a significant step
forward during the week of Nov. 5 with inaugural meetings of UE’s new
Regional Organizing Councils in Burlington, Vt., Erie, Pa. and Milwaukee, Wis.
(An initial ROC meeting was scheduled to take place in Dayton, Ohio the week
the UE NEWS went to press.)
MEETING DATES: Regional Organizing Council meeting dates are listed in UE
Calendar - What's New
Rank-and-file members sat down with elected union leaders and
staff and developed plans that they expect will help build their union.
Membership surveys will be an important part of that work in the weeks ahead.
"I thought it was very successful," says Local 506
Pres. Randy Majewski, commenting on the Erie meeting. A veteran
volunteer organizer, Majewski reports that "Everyone had a hand in it,
had say, and felt a part of it."
At each meeting, UE members considered potential organizing
targets and how to get organizing leads and more information about targeted
plants. Each participant committed to talking to co-workers about organizing
But ROCs aren’t all talk — participants also hit the
streets in direct organizing work. Action is a key component, says UE Dir. of
Org. Bob Kingsley. "We meet, we plan, we discuss, we train, but
everywhere we meet, we act."
Leafleting in Milwaukee produced five signed interest cards at
one factory alone.
The meetings began with basics, starting with the events or
influences in the lives of each individual that made her or him active in the
union. "I grew up in a union household," said some. "I was
asked to a meeting," said others. Many mentioned mentors, experienced
co-workers who took the time to explain the value of a strong union. The
common theme: one-on-one contact, the direct, personal contact that’s
crucial to organizing.
Participants considered why organizing is important. At
the Erie meeting, participants suggested that workers deserve a voice on the
job and better conditions. Organizing is also about helping people help
themselves. Organizing is important "because we have friends and family
in non-union shops." It’s also a question of self-interest, some said.
Job security was mentioned.
Speaking at the Burlington meeting, Norma Sprague,
Local 267, said that members should be involved in organizing "to keep UE
strong." Local 258 Pres. Doug Whitcomb said we should participate
in organizing because, "it’s a personal gain for our members. We need
to organize for democracy and respect in the workplace."
At each of the meetings, participants agreed that UE members
are the best organizers.
Bob South, Local 234, explained why at the Burlington
meeting: "It’s better when members come out because we’re not getting
paid. We fight the day-to-day struggles in the shop." At other meetings,
participants pointed out that members taking the time to organize as
volunteers makes a deep impression on people. Workers can relate better to
other workers in discussing workplace problems, some said.
With little encouragement, ROC participants prepared long
lists of potential organizing targets. In Milwaukee, the UE members came up
with the names of more than 70 non-union workplaces. The Erie meeting produced
a similarly lengthy list.
"Picture this," says Kingsley, in describing the two
meetings he attended. "Walls covered with butcher paper with lists upon
lists of sweatshops." Also impressive is the diversity as well as the
numbers, "the breadth of our members’ vision, which matches up with the
growing diversity of the union’s ranks. Members were as likely to propose
pursuing service-sector workplaces as they were the factories that we have
been working on for years," Kingsley says.
Through discussion, and reference to UE criteria, ROC
participants reduced the lists to a handful of targets for immediate use. The
list of more than 70 non-union work sites in Milwaukee became six. The Erie
ROC is also targeting six, Burlington five.
Discussion then focused on approaching co-workers with a
survey form to discover who has contacts at any of the targeted shops or who
knows anyone who needs a union. Each ROC participant agreed to survey at least
25-50 co-workers, and to find and talk with one or more non-union workers at
ROC participants will be reporting back to their local union
meetings, keeping organizing on the local agenda.
On Nov. 7, members of four Vermont UE locals met for their
first Regional Organizing Council (ROC) meeting at the UE Locals 267 and 221
Hall in Burlington. Newly elected District Two Sec.-Treas. Jonathan Kissam
welcomed the participants and explained that "As a Union we have power in
our shops. We engage in new organizing in order to build power outside of our
shops so that we can affect investment, trade policy, health care, livable
wages and funding for the public sector."
Because of the distances between the Vermont locals, delegates
voted to elect three co-chairs: Bob South, UE Local 234, for northeastern
Vermont, Earl Oldenburg, UE Local 258, for southern Vermont, and Norma
Sprague, UE Local 267, for northwestern Vermont. Members also decided that
they would write up the minutes from the ROC and mail them out to all
attendees and all local presidents in the state.
In addition to discussing the importance of organizing,
members took assignments to complete before the next ROC meeting in February.
Each participant took a list of five organizing targets that meet the UE
criteria for discussion in the shop. Members agreed to talk one-on-one with
co-workers to get the names and addresses of workers employed at the targeted
shops and visit them. Intl. Rep. Kimberly Lawson explained that we need
members to take this first step, and said that staff could help with any
In the afternoon members paired up to visit unorganized
workers in the Burlington area, to share their UE experience and invite them
to a meeting. The next ROC meeting will be held on Wednesday, Feb. 20.
Delegates will decide the location of the meeting at the February District
Nearly two dozen members of six Erie County locals gathered in
the UE Local 506 Hall on Nov. 8 for the founding ROC meeting. Elected as
co-chairs were Local 506 Pres. Majewski and Local 692 Chief Steward Scott
"Shaggy" Buterbaugh. Intl. Rep. Debra Gornall conducted
the meeting, which was addressed by District Six Pres. John Lambiase,
Dir. of Org. Kingsley and Field Org. Mary McGinn.
Following a full discussion on possible targets for
organizing, approaching co-workers and unorganized workers, Erie ROC
participants took to the streets and leafleted seven shops in the area.
Members of four local unions met at the Local 1111 Hall on
Nov. 9 to plan union-building action in the Milwaukee area. ROC members were
addressed by District 11 Pres. Carl Rosen and Dir. of Org. Kingsley.
In addition to surveying members in the Allen-Bradley/Rockwell
plant, Local 1111 intends to contact retirees and survey some 200 laid-off
members who will be visiting the Hall to receive holiday certificates. Local
1111 will be working through its Stewards Council to reach as many members as
possible for organizing leads.
The Milwaukee ROC went out in teams to leaflet six non-union
workplaces with a leaflet and mail-back card.
"These are acknowledged to be hard times, but people are
enthusiastic. At these meetings they wanted to make suggestions, they wanted
to make a contribution to building the union," says Kingsley. "To
see this kind of spirit and resolve on the part of our members is really
heartening, and a very positive signal about the future of our union and
The UE organizing director concludes, "Our people want to
fight the boss on the organizing front and build the organization at the same
UE News - 11/01