Spring 2017 School Blog

by | Mar 27, 2017 |

As part of the Guild School’s 65th Anniversary, throughout our Spring 2017 term we created a series of features on each of our wonderful courses. Every course was featured for a full week so that YOU can see articles related to the course content, peruse pictures and videos from the class, meet students and hear what they learned, and find out ways to link up to the action/issues at hand! 

Have questions, or want to know more about how to connect to the Guild, our classes, our instructors, and the things we’re working on? Contact us! Call us at (781) 340-7887 or email rachel@laborguild.com.

Week 1– Standing Up for Workers’ Rights During the Trump Presidency: Grassroots Organizing and Strategy, taught by Rand Wilson, Communications Director, SEIU 888

 

Major Course Questions: How will the new political environment affect labor organizing, union representation, and contract settlements?  What can workers, unions, and other labor organizations do to fight back and win? To read the full course description, click here.

Instructor bio: Rand Wilson is a the Communications Director at SEIU 888. He has worked with IBEW, the Iron Workers, AFL-CIO, CWA, MTA, Teamsters, Jobs With Justice, and more. In 2016, he was a volunteer organizer for Labor for Bernie, and a Sanders delegate from Massachusetts to the Democratic National Convention. He is currently involved with Our Revolution, fighting to reclaim democracy for working people.

Trump won — but that is just a symptom of the growing political power arrayed against workers and unions.  In order to change the political equation, we are going to have to be a lot stronger in our communities and our workplaces.  We gain strength by building workers’ unity on the job.  We achieve unity through organizing!  

Check out these two articles, which students will discuss in tonight’s session:

“Why did Trump win? And what’s next for labor in the US?” by Peter Olney and Rand Wilson: http://stansburyforum.com/why-did-trump-win-and-whats-next-for-labor-in-the-us/

http://www.labornotes.org/secrets

From the excellent Labor Notes handbook Secrets of a Successful Organizer, a how-to guide for “An Organizing Conversation”: http://www.labornotes.org/sites/default/files/22AnOrganizingConversation.pdf

Get a glimpse of the action, and hear some of the ideas that were discussed. Remember, there’s much more to come as the week continues!

“In unity there is strength. But, in fact, getting people together is not that easy.” – Rand Wilson, SEIU 888

In response to the idea that politics is a spectator sport: “You’ve got to participate in your own survival. Do you want to survive, or do you want to thrive?”

“You’ve got to know what you’re good at […] It’s the team building that’s going to make the people want to stay strong.” – Winifred Peterson, Secretary, MTASO

“You don’t want to ask someone to run before they can walk.” – Rand Wilson

Thanks to Payton Corbett, Shop Steward and Trustee, Teamsters Local 122, for taking the photos!

Hear from a student enrolled in the course about the topics being covered, what they’re learning, and more! This week’s reflection is written by Wini Peterson, Secretary, MTA – METRO Regional Office.

I am attending the Labor Guild and attending the class “Standing up for Workers Rights: Grassroots Organizing” with Rand Wilson as the instructor. I find this class to be an eye opener as it is so important to get people organized, but also to have them knowledgeable about what the issues but why it needs to be dealt with. You can have the best issue, but if no one knows about the issue or why it is important nothing gets done. I am especially enjoying the stories that other locals have and how they overcame opposition to the rights and benefits of their members. We are coming up to a time when big business has an ally in the White House who doesn’t appreciate Unions, private or public and would like to see them gone. Now more than ever we need good strong unions and even stronger union members.

Get to know one of the students in the week’s featured class! This week we’re excited to learn from Claude “Tou Tou” St. Germain, Recording Secretary of Boston School Bus Drivers- USW Local 8751, and a longtime Guild school student.

“When you create division within an organization, you create space for the opposition to get in and destroy it. Dialogue is the biggest weapon.” – Claude St. Germain

Claude “Tou Tou” St. Germain is the Recording Secretary of Boston School Bus Drivers- USW Local 8751 and a longtime Guild School student. He was part of the massive organizing campaign and victory of the Bus Drivers against Veolia/Transdev’s firing of four workers and attempts at union busting. He has been attending Guild classes since 2003, just one year after he began his job as a bus driver.

Claude became a member of USW Local 8571 when he began his job in October of 2002. Because all bus drivers are automatically added to the union, Claude was eager to get involved. During his first months on the job, he knew he wanted to learn more. A friend showed him the Labor Guild’s brochure, and he has been coming to classes ever since. “I was so anxious at that time to get everything in place to start talking about the union,” he said.

Claude has taken a wide range of classes—from Negotiations, to the Role of the Steward, and more—and has enjoyed all of them, for the range of environments they provide and skills they teach. According to Claude, “Knowledge is important. It helps you get confidence so you can have a good position in the union […] When you are in class, you get involved.”

Indeed, Claude has been highly engaged in his union, holding a number of positions and seeing it through both difficult times and victories. Since he began, Claude has held the position of steward, trustee, and now recording secretary. One of the many successes Claude has helped win for his union is the Retirement with Dignity component of the contract, which ensures that bus drivers have a strong retirement plan.

Claude was deeply involved in the historic fight against Veolia/Transdev, which began when they fired four of the drivers in late 2013. Claude says that the worst thing he’s seen on his job has been these four workers getting fired. From the day that occurred, union members including Claude escalated organizing and the struggle to win their jobs back. Bus drivers picketed every single day after work for 26 months, chipped in to support those who had been fired, and launched huge internal campaigns to get the four drivers elected to positions within the union. It was when they won these elections that they were able to return to work and secure their rights and contracts. The Bus Drivers have written a book about their historic fight, and have gone on a four-state speaking tour. Claude participated in that tour and continues to travel, sharing the story and insights from their fight and the fights of their sisters and brothers in unions throughout Boston.

For Claude, being part of a union like the Bus Drivers means gaining new knowledge and taking pride in its history of solidarity, struggle, and victory. As he says, “I always want to test everything to see what’s going on. If you have the opportunity, you seize it.” The Guild is lucky to learn from a longtime student and organizer like Claude!

Inspired by something from this week’s posts? Want to know how to continue learning and acting on the issues? Check out the resources below!

Students in the Grassroots Organizing class will be writing their own actions plans for their unions and communities. Consider writing your own! Here are some materials that might be helpful:

http://www.labornotes.org/secrets#handouts
https://massjwj.net/organizing-resources/
http://www.massaflcio.org/how-organize-union

Week 2– Next Steps for Stewards: Organizing Around the Grievance Process, taught by Tom Breslin, retired Assistant Director of Labor Education, Massachusetts Nurses Association

Course Description: Participants will learn strategies on how to supplement and enhance the grievance process by mobilizing around an issue to build membership strategy. Offered based on popular demand, this course will be an in-depth, hands-on coverage of grievance handling and everything it entails.


Instructor bio:
Tom Breslin recently retired as the Assistant Director of Labor Education at the Massachusetts Nurses Association.

Want to get a sense of what it means to dive into the grievance process? Check out the article attached!

Students discussed this article in their Monday night session: Developing Workplace Actions

Get a glimpse of the action, and hear some of the ideas that were discussed. Remember, there’s much more to come as the week continues!

“What we’re really talking about is this: Are we giving the stewards enough tools to engage, motivate, and mobilize the members?” – Tom Breslin, MNA

“A good leader not only talks about the things we do on a day-to-day basis, but also asks, ‘where do we want this local to be five years from now?’” – Tom Breslin

Thanks to Diane Young, Division of Membership, Massachusetts Nurses Association, for taking the photos!

Hear from a student enrolled in the course about the topics being covered, what they’re learning, and more! This week’s reflection is written by Ross McDonagh, International Brotherhood of Teamsters, Local 25.

Ross McDonagh, IBT Local 25

So far in our class, instructor Tom Breslin has taught us many things about the grievance process such as: the nine tests for just cause, how arbitrators are picked, and most importantly the “organizing model” for unions. This past week, we started to delve deeper into organizing members around a specific grievance– in this case, a termination grievance.

The class has been excellent so far, with much spirited discussion amongst all of our brother and sister classmates. Tom has illustrated and pointed out how different unions may handle grievances in different ways prior to arbitration. Through these discussions, not only have we learned tips and tricks from each other, but Tom has always been at the ready with solid answers to questions anyone may have about both theoretical and procedural issues and more importantly, ideas on how to handle grievances and unite the members of a bargaining unit to stand up for their rights! I highly recommend this class to anyone interested in learning more about the grievance procedures and organizing itself, which is the lifeblood of trade unionism.

Get to know one of the students in the week’s featured class! This week we’re excited to learn from Alison Sheppard, Facilities Manager at MWRA and Steward with USW 9360.

“I could do something that bored the hell out of me and even make a lot of money doing it; or do something I love and I’m really good at, but have to fight to get and keep jobs regardless of my qualifications. I would rather fight to do something I love than be bored. Someone’s got to push the envelope or things never change.” – Alison Sheppard

Alison Sheppard is a Facilities Manager at MWRA and a Steward with USW 9360. She has been coming to the Guild since 2015.

Alison began her career in construction many years before coming to the MWRA. After earning a B.A., she attended the Boston Architectural College and received a degree in Architecture. While at BAC, she also worked full time building teaching hospitals. Not wanting to do a thesis that was just a rehash of prior design projects, she decided to work on designing a housing prototype based on her theory that something could be done architecturally to improve the lives of single-parent families. At that time, no one was talking about these issues, and Alison was determined to find out if there were ways to make things better. Through her research and her design process, Alison realized that architectural changes—like being able to share resources that alone were unaffordable to individual single parent families, and easy access to public transportation—that were crucial for this group were welcome amenities for everyone else.

The desire to help others and improve conditions is something Alison brings to her work, and something she has fought for throughout her career. She is usually the only woman at male-dominated job sites and in meetings. According to Alison, “I’ve always helped everybody, especially anyone dealing with the problem of being the ‘odd person’ out.  We shouldn’t all have to learn the same lessons the hard way every time, and everyone should be accepted on their own merits.” Because of her gender, throughout her career Alison has faced continuous harassment, discrimination and disregard of her skills. However, she has never given up or left construction. She says, “I’m stubborn. I really love the work and I’m really good at it. It’s really demanding work, especially when you are doing construction in a place like an ICU where it is critical that you do not make a mistake. I always love a challenge and learning something new. Many of the projects I ended up with are projects that no one else wanted because they were too difficult. Those were my favorite projects and where I learned the most.”

Alison has many stories from her experiences as a woman in the construction field, and is in the process of writing a book that will teach others tools and strategies that she developed that have been vital for her. The focus? “The two most important things you need are self respect and a sense of humor, neither of which are easy to maintain in a continuously hostile environment,” Alison says.

Alison is also dedicated to helping people find information about education and training opportunities, including at the Guild. Alison found out about the Guild when she volunteered to become a steward. Of Guild classes, she says, “We’re getting real-world experience. That kind of stuff is really important, because it gives you a perspective that you can never get just through books and lectures. That’s something that’s so nice about all of the teachers at the Guild is that they have a lot of real world experience. I can’t ever remember having an instructor there that wasn’t really good.” Alison has enjoyed many classes at the Guild, including the current classes she is taking—Next Steps for Stewards: Organizing Around the Grievance Process and Resistance in a Trump Presidency: Winning Strategies for Progressive Electoral and Legislative Campaigns—as well as last term’s course on the election, because it covered what was happening in real time.

Since her first term, Alison is the one talking about the Guild in union meetings, pushing for increased training budgets and encouraging others to take classes and get educated. She has also shared with us a number of other organizations and sources that you will soon be able to see on our updated resources page! The Guild is lucky to have a dedicated learner and leader like Alison!

Inspired by something from this week’s posts? Want to know how to continue learning and acting on the issues? Check out the resources below!

Navigating the Five Steps of Grievance Handling, AFSCME Tutorial
The Steward’s Basics, USW (one in a four-part series!)

Week 3– Persuasive Public Speaking: Building Effective Presentation and Persuasion Skills; taught by Richard Reilly, Arbitrator, and Allyson Every, Executive Director of The Labor Guild

Course Description: Political candidates hone and practice stump speeches to paint a vivid picture that wins support. Union leaders and community activists must also persuade and communicate effectively with members, managers, and groups in all kinds of situations. Whether discussing changes in labor law and relevant Supreme Court cases, or explaining union positions or benefits, practice and polish your speaking skills in a friendly, supportive environment with guidance and feedback from the instructors.

 

Instructor bios:

Richard (Rick) Reilly is an arbitrator who has handled cases all over the world, travelling from the US to the UK to China. He worked for many years as the Vice President of the American Arbitration Association and was chair of the Massachusetts Joint Labor Management Committee. Rick has also acted in numerous productions with the Beijing Playhouse.

 

Allyson Every is the Executive Director of The Labor Guild. She took her first Guild classes as a young union steward and organizer, and was elected president of the Boston Globe’s editorial and business union. The later half of her 27-year Globe career was as a manager and writer in circulation marketing and then public relations. Allyson served on the Guild board from 1981-1989, including a term as president. Returning as a Guild volunteer in 2011, she has served as Executive Director since 2012.

What are students watching and discussing? Take a look at the video below to find out!

Students watched this video in their Monday night session: TED’s Secret to Great Public Speaking

Also, think about this great tip: speakers drink water when they are trying to stall. Opening and taking a drink from a water bottle buys time for the speaker to refocus and formulate what they are about to say.

Get a glimpse of the action, and hear some of the ideas that were discussed. Remember, there’s much more to come as the week continues!

“Our union was part of the New Hampshire fight to keep so-called Right to Work out of the Northeast. It worked. When we fight, we win!” – Claudette Wright, IBEW 2222

“We have to stand up for what we value in our home communities, too. At a Derry, NH Selectmen’s meeting, I told them that I’m all about safety now. Before I joined the union, I worked non-union construction jobs that put my life in danger. I want to be able to come home to my family after a day’s work. I told them that goes for any worker that my tax dollars help pay.” – Chris McDonough, Carpenters Local #33

“Union strong is American strong.” – Judith Foster

Hear from a student enrolled in the course about the topics being covered, what they’re learning, and more! This week’s reflection is written by Claudette Wright, IBEW 2222.

 

I am a student in this class for the very first time. I have never been more excited to study with my brothers and sisters from all walks of life from the unions and neighborhoods throughout the country.

One of the reason I love this class is because we can see the personalities of all members of the class and build positive relationships. Building relationships is one of the most important things a person can do for happiness and harmony.

[I also think that] learning how to be an effective speaker is an essential key to allowing all voices to be heard at the table. Advocacy and mediation are so necessary for all people, who need solutions and not resolutions. When we take the time out and think, analyze, speak and articulate effectively, it can change the outcome and influence a positive direction of collective and individual goals. I also learned that it is impossible to be a public speaker with poor listening skills. [At the same time,] silence is an answer that can be more harmful than good. The way you speak and the influence matters so much, if it is not from a righteous perspective. Public speaking is a career and speakers can use it for the good of the people or with bad intent.

I am still learning, and I recommend anybody that needs to build positive relationships join the Labor Guild and take classes.

“I enjoy making connections with people, I like talking to members and finding out what’s important to them. I want to give people a voice especially when they don’t think they have one.”

Get to know one of the students in the featured class! This week, we’re excited to hear from Cara Madarese, Shop Steward and Executive Board member of OPEIU Local 6.

Cara has been a Shop Steward for 12 years, 10 of which have been in the Office of Court Management where she currently works. She initially became a steward at her business managers request. “He saw that I didn’t have a hard time standing up for myself or others […] I don’t like to see people being bullied, I want everybody to have a voice.” She says that issues in her workplace, “Come in waves. Sometimes it can be really good, and sometimes it can be really bad. We are always in the spotlight because we’re in the public sector.” Because of that, “It’s hard, people are afraid they’ll lose their jobs” if they stand up to management.

However, over the years that Cara has been a steward, she says that it has gotten easier to speak up and do her job, and to know that there are people on her side and who are standing with her in her union.

The union like Cara has grown stronger and she has worked to bring others into leadership roles. “What I find to be the most difficult is engaging the members and organizing them. The managers have no problem keeping everyone separated.” To combat the isolation, Cara connects and builds relationships with people in her workplace, and has also encouraged other union members to take on small leadership roles. She keeps lines of communication open with employees in other departments and other court offices in the area.

Cara first learned about the Guild from George Noel, Business Manager at OPEIU Local 6. She says that George has worked hard to bring the union closer together, in part, by educating members and introducing them to the Guild.

Cara began taking classes at the Guild last year, and plans to continue her education. About the Guild, Cara says: “I’m from a clerical union, and there’s a lot of tradesman [at classes]. They come from a different working environment. It’s interesting to hear the different scenarios and situations they’ve experienced and how they have helped correct the problems, especially the situations related to health and safety. Learning from your peers and other students in the class is important.”

For this current term, Cara is taking the classes Next Steps For Stewards: Organizing Around the Grievance Process and Persuasive Public Speaking: Building Effective Presentation and Persuasion Skills.

The second class is outside her comfort zone, but she says, “Rick Reilly is great. I don’t particularly like public speaking, but I find that he gets you into the material. He gets everyone involved. I definitely have challenged myself with this class.”

The Guild is very lucky to have Cara as a student and community member!

Inspired by something from this week’s posts? Want to know how to continue learning and acting on the issues? Check out the resources below!

Public Speaking Tips, Toastmasters International

Week 4– Resistance in a Trump Presidency: Winning Strategies for Progressive Electoral and Legislative Campaigns; taught by Paul Feeney, Legislative Director, IBEW 2222

Course Description: This class explores modern electoral and legislative campaigns, how unions and union members can make a difference to elect pro-worker candidates, and how they can hold those officials accountable once elected. We will explore the basics of campaigns: from organization to campaign plans and budgeting to targeting. We will discuss lessons learned from 2016 and debrief what worked and what didn’t work. We will also explore important parts of a winning campaign: field, messaging, modeling, communications, digital organizing, fundraising, and coalition building, etc.

 

Instructor bio: Paul Feeney is the Legislative Director for IBEW Local 2222. He was the Massachusetts State Director for the Bernie Sanders Campaign and also served as a selectman for the Town of Foxborough from 2007 until 2010. Just last week, Paul announced that he is running for state senate. This summer, he will be running in a special election to fill the seat previously held by Jim Timilty. This district covers Bristol and Norfolk, including parts of Attleboro and Sharon, as well as Mansfield, Foxboro, Norton, Rehoboth, Seekonk, Walpole, and Medfield.

 

What are students learning and discussing? Take a look at instructor Paul Feeney’s comments and the article below to find out!

This piece posted on CNN earlier this year illustrates a common theme we have discussed throughout the class. It highlights the neurological science behind our reactions to politics. Each class has been about different aspects of an electoral campaign, but the overriding concept is that people don’t think about politics, they feel politics. We need to be cognizant of this approach as we work to elect pro-labor candidates at every level.

This is why you get worked up about politics, according to science, CNN

Get a glimpse of the action, and hear some of the ideas that were discussed. Remember, there’s much more to come as the week continues!

“This stuff works if we stick together on it. It works if we have the knowledge.” – Paul Feeney, instructor

“Once you show viability and get the voter’s attention, then you can go in and get the message across.” – Paul Feeney

Hear from a student enrolled in the course about the topics being covered, what they’re learning, and more! This week’s reflection is written by returning blogger Wini Peterson, Secretary, MTA – METRO Regional Office.

 

I’ve been attending Paul Feeney’s class on Political Campaigning for the past six weeks. We are learning about how to run for a political office. Paul has taken us through the step-by-step process of mounting a winning political campaign.

We started by learning how to use a Tully Message Box, a tool using 4 boxes. Each box asks a question: the first box, “What do we say about ourselves?”; the second box, “What do we say about them?”; the third box, “What do they say about us?”; and the fourth box, “What does our opponent say about themselves?”.

We also learned about checking the stats for the district on how people voted in the past, and using that to figure out what would be your target “win” number– amazing information on what goes on behind the scenes of a campaign. Last night, April 24th, we went over Get Out the Vote (GOTV), Poll-Checking and what needs to happen on the Election Day.

I may never run for office, but I now can help someone who is. We live in a world where we need to choose and help elect politicians who will be the voice of the working class/middle class. We have seen way too many people get elected and then forget all about these folks.

As Paul says, “When we Fight, We Win.”

 

Wini Peterson with Robert M. Schwartz, labor lawyer and author of “Your Rights on the Job” and other labor handbooks

“I always like to improve my method of organizing. There’s always something to learn.” –Martin Sanchez

Get to know one of the students in the featured class! This week, we’re excited to hear from Martin Sanchez, Organizer, New England Regional Council of Carpenters (NERCC).

Martin has been a member of NERCC for 17 years, and has been an organizer with the union off and on for the past eight years. In this position, his main role is educating the membership and organizing non-unionized workers. This means helping people understand what the union is and does, and why it is so important.

The transition from a non-union job to being a union member is something Martin can speak to firsthand. Before joining the carpenters’ union, Martin worked for three years as a wood framer without the support and protection of a union. “A carpenter organizer told me, ‘look, you can make more decent wages and have a better style of life.’ So somebody helped me, and I would like to pass it on.”

Martin spends much of his time visiting sites where workers are not unionized, and many of them do not know about organized labor. “They think they just have to work for what the boss is giving them,” he says. He has seen sites where people are receiving far below minimum wage ($10 or even $8, when the minimum is $11 in Massachusetts), and where subcontractors are taking advantage of undocumented workers and refusing to pay them after they have already completed projects. Some contractors are repeat offenders, continuously hiring and exploiting workers.

One way the carpenters unions have been successful in fighting back against this kind of exploitation is by exposing contractors so that developers will not work with them again. Martin says that they have had success in these cases particularly when working with local developers, because they are more accountable to the communities in which they are building.

According to Martin, the demands on carpenters to perform at a high level make it hard to get members excited about participating in union meetings and other activities after work, especially since they have to be on the job at 7 am. He is experimenting with creating opportunities for members to bring their families to union events, to work better with people’s busy lifestyles.

This is Martin’s first term taking classes at The Labor Guild, and it has helped him think about his work in new ways. The stories shared by his instructors Rand Wilson and Paul Feeney, and the round table discussions have given him “a lot of knowledge, stuff that I want to put into practice. You have your own style, but when you hear from other people you can incorporate that.”

The Guild is lucky to have a Martin as a student and community member!

Inspired by something from this week’s posts? Want to know how to continue learning and acting on the issues? Check out the resources below!

Take a look at the state’s guide on How to Run for Office in Massachusetts

If you’re a woman interested in running for office, check out Emerge MA, whose Executive Director Ryanne Olsen spoke last term at the Guild

Week 5– Union Membership 101: Be the Change You Wish to See; taught by Hugh Boyd, Assistant Business Manager/Treasurer/MBTA Rep, IBEW 104

Course Description: Frustrated by the lack of participation in your union?  Disillusioned that the union does not seem to make a difference? This class will address those and other common issues, giving an overview of why workers join unions to improve their working conditions and how unions make those improvements.  We will also discuss how members can improve and strengthen their unions and the broader labor movement. We all have a part to play in being the change we wish to see in our union, in the labor movement, and during a Trump presidency.


Instructor bio: Hugh Boyd
is currently an Assistant Business Manager and Treasurer at IBEW Local 104.  A 32-year union member, Hugh has served in many capacities from Executive Board member to union representative.  He has a breadth of experience in many aspects of unionism.

What are students learning and discussing? Check out the description and video below to find out.

The main focus of this week’s class is the idea that, as union leaders and members, we are our brothers’ and sisters’ keepers. Students discussed this in the context of faith and faith-based solidarity, as it applies to one’s personal safety and the safety of others on the job, and more.

Martin Luther King, Jr. and the “I Am A Man” Memphis Sanitation Strike, AFSCME Documentary

Get a glimpse of the action, and hear some of the ideas that were discussed. Remember, there’s much more to come as the week continues!

“The membership is the union.” – Hugh Boyd, instructor

“If there is a safety-sensitive situation, you don’t do it. Safety has to be the priority.” – Hugh Boyd

“We covered a lot of information today. We went from faith to crane crashes. The bottom line of all of it is that you gotta take care of your members.” – Hugh Boyd

Hear from a student enrolled in the course about the topics being covered, what they’re learning, and more! This week’s reflection is written by Judith Foster, HERO Nurturing Center.

“Information is key” is an understatement! Hugh Boyd’s Membership 101 class gave me tremendous insight into the labor movement.
To my surprise, the class discussed complexities of race, gender, and class in union work. I also learned that all of the rumors about unions were not accurate. I looked forward to Monday evening’s classes. Hugh’s ability to contextualize the vast amount of information in short time kept the class interesting and lively.
I regret not having this information decades ago. I recommend that everyone be informed of the benefits of unions.

“If I had to say something to my younger self it would be, ‘Stay more involved from the beginning. Go to more union meetings. It’s so important for everyone to stay involved.’” –Brian Caulfield

Get to know one of the students in the featured class! This week, we’re excited to hear from Brian Caulfield, Vice President of Pipefitters Local 537.

Brian has been a member of the Pipefitters since he began as an apprentice in 1986. He first became a steward in 2001, in an experience he considers a “baptism by fire” because of its intensity. Since then, he has worked as a steward and foreman at many sites, and has become further involved in union leadership. Brian is currently working as the General Foreman for Instrumentation at the Salem Power Plant.

According to Brian, experience, education, and training are crucial to success in the Pipefitters because of the diversity of work included. He says that pipefitting is “a very skilled trade. It’s one of those things that you’ll never know it all.” Union members build, install, and maintain pipes in pharmaceutical buildings, semi-conductors, power plants, high rises, schools, and more, so there is always something to learn.

Brian has noticed many ways in which his years of experience have helped him be a better steward and leader on the job. He says that his knowledge of past problems at other sites helps him anticipate what issues will be and keep management honest. This has been particularly important in dealing with issues of jurisdiction— at his current site, there are thousands of people working, and this can create a great deal of confusion that has to be addressed.

Brian has taken classes through the union’s yearly journeyman training, and has been at the Labor Guild for three terms. “I had a lot of questions, and many of them were answered. You get so much more when you’re doing formal training.” One of his favorite classes at the Guild has been Union Administration and the Law with Attorneys Paul Kelly and Lou Mandarini, because “it felt like stealing information. It covered things you just don’t hear about otherwise.”

Attending classes at the Labor Guild is one of the many ways in which Brian dedicates his time and gives his all to his work with the union. As Vice President, he also serves on the union’s bylaws and wage committees. He is motivated to do this work so that he can get more knowledge and experience, as well as a great contract for his members. If he were able to send a message to himself when he started working in 1986, he would say two things. First, “protect yourself more—wear masks, because things like smoke, dust, and concrete can be hazardous.” Second, “always stay involved with your union.”

The Guild is lucky to have Brian as a student and community member!

Inspired by something from this week’s posts? Want to know how to continue learning and acting on the issues? Check out the resources below!

Union 101: Why Unions Matter and How They Work, In These Times

A Glossary of Labor Lingo, AFSCME Next Wave

Week 6– The American Labor Relations System: Yesterday, Today, and Tomorrow; taught by Ken Grace, Esq., Partner, Sandulli Grace, P.C.

Course Description: This course explains the legal, economic, and political framework and context of labor relations in US workplaces. Topics covered include: collective bargaining, contract administration, major labor legislation, individual representation and employment law, public vs. private collective bargaining, organized labor’s past contributions, and current challenges and future prospects. This course provides students with handout materials to navigate the topics discussed.


Instructor bio: Ken Grace,
Esq., is a partner at Sandulli Grace, P.C. After studying Industrial and Labor Relations and Labor Studies as both an undergraduate and graduate student, Ken began working as a union organizer and later business agent for AFSCME Council 93. While working full time in that capacity, he realized how much more he could do with a law degree and began attending New England School of Law. Ken is a founding partner of Sandulli Grace. He has taught courses at the Guild for over 30 years and won the 2012 CGA Labor Attorney award.

What are students learning and discussing? Check out the description and articles below to find out.

This week’s course gave a hands-on look at just cause in discipline and discharge cases. In particular, students participated in a scenario entitled “A Case of Insubordination.” The activity pushed them to use problem solving skills and to navigate the difficulties of a fair grievance process when there are competing versions of what has happened.

Just Cause- Using the Seven Tests, United Electrical Workers

The Concept of Just Cause in Union Contracts, Massachusetts Nurses Association

Get a glimpse of the action, and hear some of the ideas that were discussed. Remember, there’s much more to come as the week continues!

“At the end of the day, we can talk about this or that, but unions are trying to protect people.” – Ken Grace, Esq., instructor

“I love my members, so I would never want to leave them hanging.”

“So, you’re the arbitrator. What do you think?” – Ken Grace

“The moral of this is that we don’t all see things in the same way.” – Ross McDonagh, Teamsters Local 25

 

Hear from a student enrolled in the course about the topics being covered, what they’re learning, and more! This week’s reflection is written by Steve Izzo, Teamsters Local 25.

I am very grateful to have attended this year’s Labor Guild Spring Term. This has been my first time attending the Guild, as I have been looking to further my knowledge in the labor field so I can be more in touch with my union, its history, and current events. I have taken two classes this semester, the “Next Step for Stewards” class, where we were taught how to organize around the grievance process and effectively mobilize the members around issues; and the “Labor Relations” class, where we learned all about labor history, labor movements, labor laws and more.

What I enjoyed about the Labor Relations class is that Ken is so knowledgeable on the ins and outs of the history of labor. He taught us the structure of unions and where they came from, and informed us of past and present laws that have been put into place. He also ran lessons on famous struggles in labor movements such as the Bread and Roses Strike and the Patco (Air Traffic Controllers) Strike.

Ken ran very effective classes by having us engage in group discussions, and role playing activities where we had to come up with plans on how to organize members around a strike (keeping in mind what the company will do in the event of a strike). We also played the roles of stewards and management to act out grievance cases. There were also some awesome guest speakers.

I am very glad I chose the Labor Relations course, and if I had to rate Ken and his course on a scale of 1 to 10, I would give him a 20.

Steve Izzo, second from left, with Craig Simpson, USW Local 9360, and Teamsters Local 25 brothers Ross McDonagh and Chris Smolinsky

“I wanted to contribute, especially after the election, to strengthening unions and thinking about what the labor movement was going to look like going forward. So I was looking for insights for a while, both for broader movement and to work within my own union to make it better– more organized and politically engaged.”- Jake Spertus

Get to know one of the students in the featured class! This week, we’re excited to hear from Jake Spertus, Union Rep, HUCTW.

Jake Spertus is a union rep with the Harvard Union of Clerical and Technical Workers (HUCTW). He joined the union a year and a half ago, when he began working as a researcher at one of Harvard’s labs. According to Jake, becoming an active member wasn’t an immediate priority. “I’m in the bargaining unit, so they came around and had me sign a union card. Pretty much everyone opts in because everybody pays anyway. I didn’t initially think that much about it.”

It wasn’t until the election in November that Jake realized the power of the union and decided to become more engaged. While he knew and appreciated the important job HUCTW plays in securing benefits and pay increases for its members, it was the political climate and the way in which other unions were responding to it that showed him a broader view of what unions can accomplish. “Unions’ fundamental role is to protect working people and ensure fair wages. When we’re thinking about increasing inequality and rising xenophobia, I really think economic justice is at the base level of that. Unions have a crucial role to play in fighting for the rights of working people.”

As a union rep, Jake wants to spread that message and help people realize that the rights union members have are unique and powerful. There are 5,000 members in his union, all with diverse jobs, and many who work for only a year or two before going on to graduate school or other research positions. For Jake, reaching these people and creating a positive experience with HUCTW is important for influencing the way they think about unions throughout the rest of their careers; “We need to see ourselves as part of a larger movement, and that’s actually something I’m working for.”

This is Jake’s first term taking Guild classes, and he is excited about the experience he has had so far. “You sit in a room with people of all ages, and from all different backgrounds and trades. It’s an amazing space and one that doesn’t really exist anymore […] Some of the best parts of the Guild are the discussions that come out of these classes, to learn all of these different kinds of strategies for organizing and bargaining and exerting pressure and filing grievances. And what the instructors do is really facilitate those conversations.” This term he is taking Rand Wilson’s Resistance in a Trump Presidency: Grassroots Organizing and Strategy, and Ken Grace’s The American Labor Relations System: Yesterday, Today, and Tomorrow.” He has enjoyed the focus on history and organizing, thinking about how to most effectively learn from the past and work both within and push against the current systems that exist.

The Guild is lucky to have Jake as a student and community member!

Inspired by something from this week’s posts? Want to know how to continue learning and acting on the issues? Check out the resources below!

To learn more about Just Cause, come to a special Guild workshop: “Unlocking the Mysteries of Just Cause,” with Robert M. Schwartz and Rand Wilson. Details and registration here.

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