Strong & Bold —
Public Service Workers
Build Their Union
"It's Just the
Rallying in 109-degree heat,
Local 150 members and supporters demand fairness and democracy from the
North Carolina legislature.
As the other delegates said their good-byes and headed towards
homes and jobs, the newly elected executive board of UE Local 150, North
Carolina Public Service Workers Union went to work. Gathered around a long
table on Sunday, Aug. 1 in North Carolina State’s Talley Student Union in
Raleigh, these UE leaders planned a schedule of meetings to implement the
decisions of their union’s first
The first meeting took place Saturday, Oct. 9 in
hurricane-ravaged Rocky Mount, where the Local 150 executive board measured
the new union’s progress and made recommendations for improving its work.
The executive board tapped consolidation — to build on the
excitement and high-level activity surrounding the convention —as Local 150’s
priority. Union leaders set a goal of doubling the dues-paying membership over
the next six months, called on chapters and organizing committees to adopt
organizing plans, and approved a plan that divides the state into five regions
and links chapters to regional councils.
A statewide union, UE Local 150 has members on 12 of the 16
campuses of the University of North Carolina system, at the Eastern North
Carolina School for the Deaf and the Department of Agriculture and among
Durham municipal employees. Although state agencies — including UNC — are
barred by law from bargaining with unions, Local 150 has achieved a "meet
and confer" arrangement with UNC officials.
On Aug. 24, Local 150 Pres. Barbara Prear and a
12-strong rank-and-file delegation met with the Office of State Personnel in
Raleigh for a frank exchange on a number of personnel policies, including
evaluation and promotion. Some Local 150 chapters report improvement in
administration attitudes and reaction to union activity since that meeting.
A state official present has since visited the campus of UNC-Charlotte
to informally solicit worker opinions. Workers told her to talk to their UE
chapter president, Novella Townsend, who in turn convened a
well-attended meeting to gather worker views. A meeting with the state
official had been scheduled as the UE NEWS went to press. (Townsend is
Local 150 recording secretary)
Since the convention, most Local 150 chapters have met to
discuss the convention and resolutions adopted at that historic gathering and
to elect officers. Stewards’ training sessions have taken place on a
Local 150 members from UNC-Charlotte were among the 500
participants in that city’s first-ever Labor Day parade, which drew some
5,000 spectators. Local 150 members from NC State protested CMI’s
attacks on UE Local 1187 members in South Dakota.
‘IT’S JUST THE BEGINNING’
Sixty-four rank-and-file Local 150 leaders left their July
30-Aug. 1 convention fired with a new sense of commitment and a bold
determination. "To me it’s just the beginning," said Charles
Wesley Lee, a respected 32-year employee of North Carolina State. "I
want everyone to realize what we’ve done this weekend."
What they did was adopt a constitution for their state-wide
local union, approve resolutions, elect officers, attend workshops, rally
outside the state legislative building in 109-degree heat — and commit to
each other to continue to build their union. "This is an historic
event," said housekeepers’ leader Barbara Prear, elected Local 150
Delegates acknowledged the difficulties in building a
public-sector workers’ union in a state with anti-union laws. A number of
delegates described administration efforts to scare workers away from the
union. "We won’t let them scare us," a worker from the Greensboro
campus declared. She explained how union members wear UE buttons, distribute
information on workers’ rights to join the union and continue to have weekly
At UNC-Chapel Hill, the administration told workers they
couldn’t have union meetings on their break time. "We cannot allow them
to tell us what we can and cannot do on our breaks," declared Prear.
"These are our First Amendment rights." And in defense of those
rights, break-time meetings are still taking place.
In reports and workshop discussions, delegates spoke bitterly
of the racism encountered on and off the job. One delegate reported how a
supervisor dismissed the union by saying "black folks would never get
together." "But we did," the delegate said — and the union
enjoys the support of all three black student organizations on campus.
"They don’t want to see people get too close together," commented Bruce
Gaynor from the UNC-Wilmington campus, a Local 150 trustee.
Many delegates talked about inadequate pay, unfair discipline
linked to lack of adequate training, favoritism, cutbacks and under-staffing
and how bosses use the threat of privatization to put a lid on worker
‘ORGANIZE, ORGANIZE, ORGANIZE!’
Delegates found the answer to their concerns in the refrain of
the song written by Nathanette Mayo, a leader of the Durham municipal
workers’ union and Local 150 vice president: "Organize, organize,
organize!" The song’s simple but powerful idea soared on voices that
filled the cavernous student union meeting room.
Workers from the South are here
The time is right, let’s organize today!
We’re tired of being abused and exploited!
Get up, stand up, wake up, we will be doing it —
Oh, we’re going to
Organize! Organize ! Organize!
Mayo and her co-workers match motion to the music. "We’re
moving, we’re growing. Over the last couple of weeks we’ve been having an
organizing drive," she said in her report to the convention.
UE Genl. Sec.-Treas. Bob Clark, who chaired the
convention, took up the challenge of organizing personally. He signed-up a new
member at the Fountain Dining Hall on campus, where delegates took their
District One Pres. Connie Spinozzi hailed Local 150 as
"A proud and important addition to District One and the National
union." What began as a few workers standing together to improve their
conditions "will indeed be a powerful statewide union with bargaining
rights for all," she said. "What is being written down now (in the
local constitution) 60 years from now will be looked on with gratitude and
admiration by new members as the backbone of Local 150."
"UE 150 Is On a Roll," sang union members to an
up-tempo, rock-and-roll beat. (It’s another song by Vice Pres. Mayo)
UE 150 is on a roll
We’re singing it loud, strong & bold
Carolina Public Service Workers Union
North Carolina Public Service Workers Union