Today I pose the question: How would you like to be part of a union that is built, designed, and ready for the 21st century. Well guess what? You are a part. A part of a well–oiled fighting machine that is ready for this war on workers.
Teamsters Local 117 is not like most unions. Instead of waiting for change, we change things. Instead of waiting for employers to treat us with respect, we demand respect. In a word, we adapt. Adapt to the climate of the world we live in, while teaching members to adapt within their workplace environment.
So how did we get here?
Since 1997, my first year as a Teamster, I have changed, and the landscape of labor has also changed. Like most union members, I was happy just to be a part of a union. I was happy just to have a good paying job. I didn’t think my voice mattered. In those days, the union was reactionary. We sat and waited for our contract to expire, while the employer mostly set the tone for negotiations. Shop stewards only worried about grievances. There were no caucuses, and little in terms of political engagement.
But a few years ago, something started to change. Our Union started to change. Not only in the way we looked, but also in our day-to-day operations. Rank-and-file members were encouraged to participate in legislative affairs. Stewards were encouraged to get more involved with their central labor councils. Business agents became organizers. And organizers became community activists.
In 2004, we started building our union caucuses. Now, we have five caucuses that members can be a part of: The Teamsters Women's Caucus, Comité Latino, Teamsters for Tomorrow, Black Teamsters United, and the LGBT Caucus.
Teamsters 117 started to see a greater purpose, a greater vision for our union. They realized that we are not here just to collect dues and save jobs. Members are getting involved, and gaining a sense of pride.
The rank and filers are what make this union successful, but we are not alone. In this war on workers, Local 117 has many troops: business agents, staff members, retirees, and an Executive Board. No one is too big or too small to be a soldier in the 117 army.
Fast forward to 2014 … and here we are, one of the strongest unions in the country. This is due in part to our diversity. Not only on our Executive Board, not only in our membership, but also in the shops we represent. Within our midst, there are republicans, democrats, independents, as well as other political affiliations. But the group is more important than any one individual. When we fight as a group, we win as a group.
“When we fight, we win” has become a rallying cry for us. “When we fight, we win” has become our mantra.
Thanks to Dewayne Collins, a Shop Steward at Seattle Cold Storage who wrote this piece as a part of his participation on the Local's new Communications Committee. If you would like to join the committee, please send us an email.