Summer conferences empower Teamsters 856 members

Every summer, Teamsters 856 members represent their local at educational conferences hosted by the International Brotherhood of Teamsters. The Teamsters National Black Caucus (TNBC) Conference and the Teamsters Women’s Conference are two such events where 856 members are able to contribute and learn from other Teamsters throughout North America and bring back those lessons to strengthen and grow their union.

TNBC Conference attendees from left to right: Shaune Vaughn (Delta Dental), Veronica Hudson (Contra Costa County), Demnlus Johnson (Contra Costa County), Tracey Walker (Contra Costa County), Monica Byrd (West Contra Costa Unified School District), Evalyn Rushing (Contra Costa County)

This year, the TNBC conference was held in Louisville, Kentucky from August 13th – 18th and the Women’s Conference attendees headed north, to Montreal, Canada from September 15th – 17th.

The TNBC Conference

The Teamsters National Black Caucus is a caucus of the International Brotherhood of Teamsters. Its purpose is to address issues black workers face and increase black worker participation in local union activities.

“The conference was an educational experience that provided me with resources to address pressing issues confronting black workers,” said Local 856 Assistant Representative Tracey Walker. Tracey’s previous experience at the TNBC conference in 2018 inspired her to help launch the Local 856 Black Teamsters Committee.

“The Black Teamsters Committee is being formed to help keep our union strong,” continued Tracey. “We want to empower black members of Local 856 to become confident and strong union members and worksite leaders and develop programs that give black members of Local 856 a sense of purpose and pride in our union.”

At this year’s conference, Tracey and fellow attendees learned about pressing issues such as criminal justice reform, overcoming implicit biases, and the impact of growing automation on the future of work — an issue Local 856 has taken the lead on in recent years. (Go to to find more information). Members also attended workshops where they went deeper on Teamster history, health and safety regulations, processing grievances, and more.

Local 856 West Contra Costa Unified School District Shop Steward Demnlus Johnson, who also is a Richmond City Councilmember, facilitated a panel discussion on the importance of civic engagement. The panel featured speakers from the Teamster DRIVE program, the NAACP, and other community organizations.

“I learned about the need to get involved more in my Local and get more people involved in the Local as well,” he said. “It’s important to get involved because it allows for a more diverse form of representation, which will cover a greater range of issues.”

Want to learn more about the TNBC? Get involved in the Local 856 Black Teamsters Committee (TBTC)! Click here to join the TBTC email list.

The Teamsters Women’s Conference

“I have more pride in being a Teamster,” said Machelle Lawson as she reflected on her first time at the Teamsters Women’s Conference. Machelle is a shop steward who works in customer service at Delta Dental. She and six other members represented Local 856 at this year’s Women’s Conference in Montreal.

“Hearing from people who are in similar situations was motivating,” she said. “We all go through the same trials and tribulations at work, and the conference showed that though we all may be from different places, we are all working together to address these issues as Teamsters.”

The conference gave City of Santa Rosa Shop Steward Sara Roberts an edge on negotiation preparations. Sara and her co-workers will begin contract negotiations with the city next year, and she is ready to implement what she learned at the conference to help secure the best possible contract.

“We learned about how stewards and reps handle negotiations,” she explained. “It was really helpful to see how strategies work and how to be a united front in negotiations. The instructor had been through negotiations many times himself, so it was interesting to hear his experience.”

When new employees are hired into Teamster jobs by the City of Santa Rosa, Sara welcomes them and gets them familiar with Local 856 through a thorough new member orientation she calls NEW (New Employee Welcome). “It was nice to hear from women who have the same perspective on welcoming members into our union as I do,” she said. “I learned more from them about how to keep members involved.”

With the merger of Teamsters 601 into Teamsters 856 this summer, the conference gave shop steward Deborah Gamber-Cook, a previous Local 601 member, an opportunity to connect with her new Local 856 sisters.

“It was a bonding experience,” said Deborah, who works at Health Services & Benefits Administrators in Dublin. “I thought the entire conference was great — I got to meet a lot of people from different parts of the country and the classes were phenomenal.”

The members who attended both the TNBC and the Women’s Conference all left with a sense of pride and ownership as Teamsters. “We represent, educate, and fight for our members,” said Machelle. “As a union, we can negotiate for and create a better work environment.”

Thank you to all the members who represented Local 856 at the Teamsters National Black Caucus Conference and the Teamsters Women’s Conference! 

TNBC Conference
Monica Byrd – West Contra Costa Unified School District
Veronica Hudson – Contra Costa County
Demnlus Johnson – Contra Costa County
Evalyn Rushing – Contra Costa County
Shaune Vaughn – Delta Dental
Tracey Walker – Contra Costa County

Women’s Conference
Lisa Chin – Delta Dental
Deborah Gamber-Cook – Health Services & Benefits Administrators
Machelle Lawson — Delta Dental
Debra Lemke–Health Services & Benefits Administrators
Roberta Patton – Northwest Administrators
Janine Jabin Roach – Northwest Administrators
Sara Roberts — City of Santa Rosa