Joint Council 53 knows a good activist is someone who has a passion for improving the lives of working people. As home to more than 52,700 Teamsters in Pennsylvania, Delaware and New Jersey, JC 53 also knows that much of their membership is hungry to become more involved with union activities. That’s why over the weekend they held an activist training to a Teamster-packed hall at Local 623 in Philadelphia, hosting members from 24 locals in the region.
Saturday’s training began with remarks from IBT International Vice President and Pennsylvania Conference of Teamsters President Bill Hamilton, who gave the activists an honest portrayal of union organizing in the current political landscape:
We can’t do it all anymore. It’s too cumbersome. The game plan today is to educate members to take a more active role in their local unions. You are the future of our growth. Around the country and in this area, unions have been unable to grow because national contracts are shrinking; the freight companies have all but gone away. And it’s really hard for organizing. As soon as we organize 10 new workers, there’s 10 more walking out the door due to layoffs.
|Bill Hamilton addresses attendees.|
In his role as JC 53 and Local 107 President, Hamilton emphasized the importance of member activism in growing union density throughout the region:
This is job security for you guys. The greater our numbers, the greater our strength – but we need members like you to be on the front lines: talk to nonunion workers, listen to them and learn their concerns, tell them the importance of being in a union.
Following Hamilton’s remarks, Teamsters General President Jim Hoffa welcomed the room in a taped video message:
For nearly 80 years, Joint Council 53 has been at the forefront of organizing new workers. Your success is proof that the power of the union is dependent upon its members. Without member participation, the fight for justice is much more difficult.
Throughout the day-long training, a variety of speakers explained U.S. labor laws, the role of the NLRB, the impact of right-to-work legislation around the country and the need for member involvement. The focus often turned to combating union busters, which has become a common, unwanted occurrence for many locals in the region. JC 53 organizer Chris Buschmeier led the discussion and profiled the men and women being paid to disrupt workers from unionizing.
To better explain the scare tactics during organizing campaigns, Buschmeier held a mock captive audience meeting. Playing the role of management, he challenged the room to the usual scare tactics used by employers:
See this blank sheet of paper. This is another trick the employer will use during these meetings. They’ll stand up and say, ‘If the union gets in here, this is what we’re gonna have.’ Everything will go to zero and you’ll come away with nothing … It’s called a 'threat of reprisal' and they use it all the time to tell workers what they currently have now – all the big money and overtime – will go away when the union comes in. THAT IS ILLEGAL!
Corporate America has a script for breaking unions, says Buschmeier. By recreating these types of situations, he believes members will get a firsthand look at what is at stake for nonunion workers during organizing campaigns:
It may seem like a dramatic learning tool, but our members are able to play along and learn firsthand how to contest union busters. It’s important they know what is going on during organizing campaigns so that they can better interact with workers before they cast their vote for representation. There’s a lot of fear that they will need to combat.
Also speaking was Local 773 President Dennis Hower, who drove home the overall message of Saturday’s training with a call to action:
Whether on a contract campaign at your workplace, organizing new workers or volunteering for a political campaign, having member activists to see the campaign through to the end is essential if we are going to win.