Houston When local leaders get together in the annual leadership conferences for Local 100 the room is always buzzing with conversation when a speaker isn’t on the floor or a workshop isn’t scheduled. They are sharing stories about grievances, problems with bosses, membership concerns, and a million other issues, including the always vexing problems around fair wages and benefits. Another theme that has been recurred with added urgency at the 37th annual conference were the every accelerating threats to the very survival of labor unions.
Perhaps the highlight of the conference was a brilliant workshop on leadership development, unit maintenance, and grievance handle moderated by Robert Stahn, chief steward of one of our newest units in Texas of bus drivers and attendants with the Arlington Independent School District, and Stephanie Newton, one of the team of stewards and activists at the Southeast Arkansas Human Development Center in Warren, Arkansas. There was a lot of back and forth and other key stewards weighted in on everything from how they recognized “union material” in new workers to the importance of handling grievances on the job site in the Dallas County ISD. Sister Newton, with very little warning that she was moderating the session, demonstrated why she is such a revered steward by the members in Warren and so feared by management by reeling off a list of almost a dozen “must-do” tips for handling grievances beginning with the importance of understanding the rules, procedures, and contract when members have one. Brother Stahn inspired members with the story of how Arlington drivers had won a 5% putting starting wages over $15.00 hour in the district and pulling up attendants as a priority as well.
Given that Local 100’s members are lower waged workers, there were both reports and discussions on how to move forward on “living” wage campaigns. The members voted to make a $10 per hour wage the absolute bottom line on our contracts and facilities, while hearing a report on the New Orleans fight to get cleaners the benefits of a $10.55 minimum which has thrown the union into court against the city. Plans were made for healthcare and community home workers to insert themselves into the legislative budget process in Louisiana to impact reimbursement rates and force some sharing to bring wages and benefits up. Arkansas state worker members are involved in a similar process and shared their efforts. Another workshop showcased our success since the last conference in getting lead tested in Houston and to some degree in Dallas and the need for constant followup.
Congressman Al Green from Houston had opened up the session with a report on the struggles in Washington over consumer protection, healthcare and sundry other matters. Green is seeking to trigger impeachment proceeds for President Trump as well. State Representative Ron Reynolds detailed the fight to prevent a loss of payroll deductions for public employees in Texas which is part of the call for a special session there.
The union recommitted to fighting to keep affordable healthcare and protect Medicaid which is so critical in our workplaces and communities, while also discussing new initiatives and organizing models for the union that recognized the changing circumstances of workers and the service economy.
Everyone learns things at these conferences. I got instructions on how a “bus arm camera” works to photograph cars that go around school buses and ticket them for $300 in Texas, as well as device called a “zonar” that drivers are required to use in Arlington on bus maintenance, inspections, and attendance. I also asked how many members had checked the union’s website and Facebook pages in the last 30 days, and received a wake up call about our need to communicate more directly not only on worksites but also through robodialers and going old school on phonebanks between leaders, organizers, and members.
Merging the big picture and the constant details makes any leadership gathering of union leaders and stewards essential.