When Teamsters Local 117 decided to hire Nancy Santos as a new Business Rep, I knew they had made an outstanding choice. I was hired at the Fred Meyer warehouse in 1999, and one of the first things I noticed was a big sign, proclaiming Nancy as the most productive worker for the week. As I would learn, this was not an unusual occurrence; her work ethic week in and week out was something to behold. This was a worker at the top of the productivity list who did NOT kiss up to management. In fact, she didn’t take nonsense from anybody, and would not only stand up for herself, but others as well.
Nancy started at Fred Meyer when she was 16 year old, working at the Burien store for five years. She had originally requested a transfer into her store’s Grocery Department, and had to stand by and watch as other male associates, with less seniority, were granted transfers ahead of her. Denied the opportunity to advance at the store, she transferred to the warehouse in 1995, partly because she knew it was a Teamster warehouse. One of the supervisors told her that they were reluctant to even approve the transfer, because they didn’t think that a woman could do the job. Nancy proved them very very wrong.
Both of Nancy’s parents were union, and her dad always told her, “Never take a job that isn’t union”. Nancy always knew that being union meant something. “As a kid, I always had the impression that you don’t mess with the Teamster," she said. "Nowadays it’s commonplace for corporations and politicians to mess with the Teamsters, and all of the working class. People have died fighting for the rights and working conditions that too many people today take for granted.”
One year after I was hired, I had enough seniority to bid on a job driving a specialized kind of forklift. Nancy was my trainer, and I was amazed at how the supervisors and managers seemed to treat her differently than everyone else. They treated her with courtesy and respect, and didn’t try to bully or intimidate her into doing extra work on her own time - something they did to all of us at the time. I found out that she had regular meetings with the guy who ran the whole warehouse, and that she was able to air her grievances during these meetings. Everyone knew where she stood when it came to workers' rights, if only we could learn to do the same for ourselves.
Then, it happened. In Spring of 2011, while we were just beginning our preparations for the next round of contract negotiations, she posted an open letter on the union bulletin board that made our jaws drop. “This company thinks we are a joke!” was the opening line. The letter proceeded to point out the ways we needed to improve, and featured blistering attacks on management. The letter excited us. It got us going. And it lit a fire under us like we had never had before. I refer to it as the spark that started the engine. Nancy attended Steering Committee meetings and coordinated orders for T-shirts. She spoke to the media and passed out flyers around neighborhoods (and made sure not to skip the houses of our managers and supervisors). The end result was the best contract we’ve ever had at Fred Meyer.
Still, she wasn’t satisfied. “We can do better” she told me over and over again. Instead of sitting around and patting ourselves on the back for the contract we got, she lamented over missed opportunities and missteps during the highly successful campaign. Determined to push even harder, she was elected a shop steward. Since then, we have all seen stunning examples of her work, again and again. For the sake of brevity, I will share one example that stands out in my mind. A single member, who had an issue with our business rep, was heading to the union hall for a meeting with his boss. All the other shop stewards were working that morning, but Nancy had just finished her graveyard shift. Exhausted, she drove all the way to Tukwila to assist in resolving this issue, because she knew she was the only one available to do it - and she knew it needed to be done.
While many people have worked hard to improve our working conditions over the years, most can only share a few stories like this. But for Nancy, this is the kind of thing she does, day in and day out. Not only did she work a graveyard shift, she maintains a very happy household, based on love and respect. Married with two kids, her house is kept immaculately clean, all while being very active in the union; organizing fundraisers, conducting production standard audits, attending meetings, etc. Does any of this affect her energy or enthusiasm day after day? Absolutely not. She has continuously been a leader at Fred Meyer in performance (a direct measurement of how much work she completes in a given day). Furthermore, her work does not suffer, on the contrary, it is accurate and thorough.
Now, she is able to work full time protecting workers' rights. Now, she is able to share her talents with many others across the region. Now, our union is stronger. As a business rep, not only will she be someone that people can count on, but someone that people can count on to get the job done right.
Thanks to Josh Putnam, a Shop Steward at Fred Meyer, 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.