Every year, women from unions throughout the United States and Canada gather together for the Summer Institute on Union Women (SIUW) in their region. This year, Teamsters 856 sent 18 members from both the public and private sector to the Western SIUW, held in beautiful Honolulu, Hawaii.
“What better way for our members to grow and learn than to do so with other union women around the country,” said Teamsters 856 Secretary-Treasurer and Principal Officer Peter Finn. “The women we sent will be able to come back and take what they learned to their worksites, and use it to help build and strengthen our union.”
This year’s theme was, “Continuing the Legacy: Responding with Direction, Unity & Strength.” According to the Western SIUW’s website, this particular theme was chosen, in part, because “the right to bargain collectively for a voice is under organized attack,” making a space to share expertise and collaborate more important now than ever.
Throughout the four days, institute attendees learned about organizing, mobilization, collective bargaining, globalization, and building solidarity from experienced organizers and labor leaders. The women were able to work with each other, network, and learn from one another.
Dayna Sherwood and her colleagues at the San Francisco Zoo will begin bargaining soon, which is part of the reason she knew attending the SIUW would be beneficial.
“I came back feeling super inspired and ready to bargain,” she said. “I felt like I had more power, and felt stronger about going to the table. I learned more about the process: how to prepare and present proposals, and how to respond to the employer.”
LaKenya McGhee works for Contra Costa County and said her experience taught her how to be a stronger leader.
“You don’t have to be in a role of power to be a leader,” she said. “The small things you do to and for people can have a big impact on them. Listen to that tap on the shoulder when someone has picked you as their leader.”
Teamsters 856 Political Director Tricia Suzuki Blinstrub attended the SIUW and led a workshop on politics and the importance of political activism.
“The SIUW is an opportunity for us to send our members to expand their knowledge about being in the labor movement,” she said. “It also allows us to bring together the different sectors of our union to meet, learn, and experience the bond that holds us together. We often get caught up in our own worksites so this allows us to remember the bigger pictures of who our union is.”
Connecting with fellow 856 members was a big part of what made the SIUW important to Shaune Vaughn who works for Delta Dental. “It taught me that all women from [all] walks of life go through things and still maintain families and work,” she said.
Women empowering one another was happening both in and out of the workshops and classrooms.
Micki Estrada has worked for Washington Hospital for 30 years. This was her first time at the SIUW, and she said she was particularly inspired by a woman from British Columbia who showed her that she has within her more confidence than she ever realized. Micki says these lessons were the most important to her. “They showed us that women have rights and a voice that’s often overlooked,” she said. “They helped give us the voice that we already had – only louder.”