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Transforming The Teamsters In The Northwest


On September 11-12, Local 117 sponsored a staff retreat with a workshop focused on shifting from the entrenched representational mode of doing business to a method that incorporates representation and organizing as essential building blocks of a powerful local union. The workshop was facilitated by the Teamsters Training and Development Department.

Tracey Thompson, Secretary-Treasurer of Local 117 in Seattle, knew something had to be done. A structured, systematic attack against organized labor was spreading rapidly and destroying union security, one essential part of the labor strength attained through historic depression-era legislation. Gone were the days where union representatives sharpened their contract negotiation and enforcement skills with a moderately willing or, at worst, ambivalent employer. The labor movement had awakened to a bleak reality. Organized labor was not really organized and corporate America was on the warpath against them.

Recognizing that members in today’s unions often feel disempowered due to a lack of opportunities to develop a sense of ownership in their organization, Local 117 leaders saw the need to develop a structure and culture where the members take on greater responsibilities and form the necessary sense of proprietorship to their union. This was no small task. Leonard Smith, Director of Organizing for Local 117, had worked to build coalitions throughout the Northwest. He, like Thompson, could see that without a strong, dedicated membership, the greatest representation skills in the world would not keep the union alive.

Thompson, with the help of her staff, decided to embark on a mission to reorganize Local 117. Strategic planning was used to analyze the current situation and develop broad objectives for the future. That is when the retreat and workshop formulized.

The entire staff of Local 117 participated in structuring plans to make the shift. An internal advisory committee was established consisting of business agents, organizers and office staff to meet and make recommendations to the local’s executive board that will focus on meeting the goals set forth at the retreat. The age-old division between organizing and representation was bridged by having organizers and business agents working together on the committee.