Local 856 members build collective power at the Summer Institute on Union Women

Teamsters 856 members walked the picket line for Unite Here members. The rally and march were a part of their experience at the Summer Institute on Union Women.

Last month, Teamsters 856 sent 12 members to the Western Regional Summer Institute on Union Women (SIUW) held at Sonoma State University.

The SIUW brings women together from unions, worker centers, and community organizations in the western United States and Canada for five days to hone their organizing skills, receive leadership training, and discuss issues facing the labor movement.

“It was an important experience because it allowed me to learn about what other unions are working on and get ideas that could work for us,” said Monica Pacini, a Local 856 shop steward at West Contra Costa Unified School District. “I think it also opened my eyes to the fact that our union isn’t alone, there are many more — it made me feel stronger.”

Monica Pacini (left) working on a group project with peers during one of her Summer Institute core courses.

The theme of this year’s SIUW was “The RESISTERhood—Working Womxn Organizing for Collective Power.” 

The theme resonated with Mickalene “Micki” Estrada who applied to attend the Summer Institute this year because most of the members Local 856 represents at her workplace, Washington Hospital, are women. “I wanted to learn ways to show them how to speak up to their supervisors and stand up for themselves,” she said.

Monica felt similar. As a new Teamster, she wanted to learn more about workers’ rights and benefits. “When I got the email about the Summer Institute, I thought it was perfect,” she said. “I was so excited to be around more union women.”

A highlight for members who attend the Summer Institute is always the chance to meet and connect with fellow Local 856 members. It’s also a chance for members to help one another grow as leaders.

From left to right: Deirdre Lopez (Delta Dental), Micki Estrada (Washington Hospital), and Judy Rodrigues (St. Rose Hospital and Local 856 Executive Board member) on the Unite Here picket line

“One woman was a brand-new shop steward who was trying to figure out how to organize her members ahead of negotiations,” said Deirdre Lopez, a shop steward at Delta Dental. “Because we were all there together, we were able to help her out with our experience. It makes Local 856 stronger when we’re able to connect with what is going on at other sites.”

Micki, who has worked at Washington Hospital in registration, ER, and admitting for 31 years, said you could feel the unity growing throughout the week. “We got to meet people, and people were opening up,” she said. “We would go room to room to visit each other and it was like nobody was a stranger. You could feel the sisterhood.”

A special thank you to the following members who represented Teamsters 856 proudly at this year’s Summer Institute on Union Women:

Dana Ornelas, City of Daly City
Krystalyn O’Leary, Golden Gate Bridge Highway & Transportation District
Odessa LeFrancois, Contra Costa County
Sarahvone Calhoun, Contra Costa County
Nancy Williams, Contra Costa County
Mickalene Estrada, Washington Hospital
Monica Pacini, WCCUSD
Sandra Ramirez, WCCUSD
Deirdre Lopez, Delta Dental
Pamela Stephens, DHL
Deborah Ward-Crummey, United Airlines
Judy Rodrigues, St. Rose Hospital

And a special shout-out to Local 856 shop steward at Contra Costa County, Sarahvone Calhoun who helped lead a course, Teamsters 856 Political Director Tricia Suzuki Blinstrub who taught one of the SIUW’s core courses: “Politics Matters: Women taking control of their future,” Teamsters 856 Representative Veronica Diaz who helped with Spanish translation throughout the week.