Last month, Teamsters 856 held a Shop Steward Training Seminar in Oakland.
Stewards from West Contra Costa Unified School District, Delta Dental, Contra Costa County, American Airlines, Hertz, Avis Budget, UPS, Marin General Hospital, Washington Hospital, Alameda County Probation, Marriott Union Square, National Alamo, the City of Fremont Police Department, and the City of Pittsburg all met to sharpen their skills and plan for the future of the union.
Led by 856 Secretary-Treasurer and Principal Officer Peter Finn and Vice President Rudy Gonzalez, the day included an update on union successes – including adding 1,800 new members from the West Contra Costa Unified School District. “We’ve organized 5,000 new members in four years and are over 12,000 members strong,” said Peter. “We’re the largest Teamster local in Northern California.”
Stewards also learned about how misleadingly named “right to work” policies pose a threat to workers and their unions. (Learn more here.) They discussed who is behind these policies, and what can make the difference in the fight to strengthen rather than weaken the labor movement – union members and high union density.
“Union density is actually the difference,” said Rudy. “When working people have stronger voices, the laws turn out better. When people have a fair shake, and can realize the American dream, you actually have a strong, thriving middle class.”
As Shop Stewards discussed and strategized ways to ensure the Union is always strong enough to face any threat, they also discussed the role of the Shop Steward both on-the-job and for the union.
Lisa Chin has worked for Delta Dental for 39 years, and has been a Steward for 20. She said that at work, Stewards can be their coworkers’ greatest advocate.
“I’ve learned a lot from being a Steward,” said Lisa who is also a member of the 856 Local Executive Board. “I’ve also learned a lot about what the company should not do. By being a steward, I stand up for my people — and I do stand up for my people.”
For Sara Morgan, an ER Tech for Marin General Hospital, being a Shop Steward allows her to educate her coworkers. “I want to be one of the best Stewards I can be,” she said. “Really knowing all of our rights is important because I’m seeing a lot of unfairness and manipulation.”
As an Alameda County Probation Officer, Dan Lister has a passion for helping people. In his job, he’s been able to help individuals get through the system and back to their lives. And as a Shop Steward, he’s able to help his coworkers. “I protect them,” he said. “I take care of them. We would be woeful down here if we let the County tell us what we need or should have. With the union, we’re thriving.”
Alonso Ruvalcaba gets to his job as a gardener for Contra Costa County every morning at 6 a.m. He loves his work, and says he finds his motivation in working with different people from different backgrounds with different personalities. As a member of one of 856’s newest units, he’s seen the difference becoming a Teamster has made for himself and his coworkers. “The union has been more involved with us workers,” he said. “We just became Teamsters a year ago, and I’m already in a training session and I actually know my union rep.”
“It’s important because everyone needs an understanding of what’s going on with their union,” Alonso continued. “It unites our coworkers, and if there’s no unity, there’s no strength within the group.”
Otheree Christian attended the training along with a group of his coworkers from West Contra Costa Unified School District (WCCUSD). When Otheree and his coworkers voted to become Teamsters 856 members earlier this year, they grew the union’s power to 12,000 members strong.
For Otheree, the training was a reminder of why he wanted to become a Teamster.
“It’s time for us to rise up with a stronger union to fight for us in the school district,” he said.
“Our Shop Stewards will now have the help through representation to bring unity amongst our coworkers, and to be a resource when situations arise.”
Good work, Teamsters 856 Stewards!