Editorial: Reflections on Leadership, United, and Advocacy

A few weeks ago, I had the honor of leading Local 1500’s delegation onto the floor of the 9th Regular Convention of the UFCW International Union.  I have had the opportunity to attend two prior conventions, but this was my first as President.  The International Convention occurs every 5 years and is an opportunity for transparency, education, and professional growth for all that attend.  Its principal purpose is to elect the International leadership team and to ensure they hear the voices and opinions of the rank-and-file membership as they prepare to guide the UFCW for the next 5 years.  The elected delegates present take all actions necessary and cast votes for and against resolutions and constitutional amendments on behalf of their respective Local Union memberships.  Once the Convention is concluded the International Constitution is modified to include any/all approved modifications and the International Union resumes its day-to-day operations.

In addition to proudly leading our delegation’s activities this year, I was also blessed to be elected by the delegates in attendance to continue in my role as an International Vice President (IVP).  Standing with International President Perrone, the Executive Committee, and the rest of the IVP’s to take the oath to serve was a very proud moment for me and our Local Union.  Although it was great being nominated and elected as an IVP by the International Executive Board in early 2021, being elected by the full convention delegation is a very different and humbling experience.  I am happy to report that both your rank-and-file and staff delegates participated in and attended all Convention activities/classes and interacted with and learned from other UFCW members from across the United States and Canada.

Local 1500 was also incredibly well represented on the Convention stage by both Secretary-Treasurer Aly Waddy and EVP/Recorder Joe Waddy.  Aly and Joe were both asked by President Perrone to serve on Convention committees as co-chairs.  Aly served as a co-chair on the Convention Rules Committee while Joe served as co-chair of the Human Rights and Community Action Committee!  I assure you that they both made us so proud, not only in the preliminary and planning meetings leading up to the Convention, but especially when the time came for them to hit the stage with their other co-chairs!  Additionally, Aly also helped create and run a delegate educational class that was presented during a Convention break out period.  What a week, and what an honor to have our three highest elected officers representing our membership in front of the entire Convention!  In the words of Local 1500 President Emeritus Tony Speelman, “What a team!” 

Not to be outdone, Local 1500 Director of Operations Paul Santarpia also made his presence felt at the Convention.  In addition to spending countless hours of his free time working in the Outreach membership booth to ensure that there was always proper coverage whenever the hall was open, Paul was also elected to serve as the region 1 coordinator for UFCW Outreach.  Outreach, which is one of the four UFCW constituency groups, has a mission to help support, educate, and create opportunities for 2SLGBTQ+ workers across all industries in the United States and Canada.  Even as an ally, Paul has demonstrated a dedication to the Outreach agenda and to helping 2SLGBTQ+ workers every day.  Thank you so much Paul for all that you do for our membership!

Unlike other Conventions I’ve attended in the past there was a higher degree of discontent and disagreement on display during this one.  There was a group of delegates who expressed opinions and ideas that differed from the recommendations of the International leadership and the Executive Board and were also not shared by the majority of the delegates.  They took every opportunity to make sure that they were heard, and they occasionally made it personal.  Many of these delegates were rank-and-file members that spoke passionately about their beliefs and although I didn’t completely agree with many of their arguments or opinions, they deserve to be commended.  It takes a great deal of internal calm and guts to speak into a microphone in front of over 1500 people, it takes even more when you are saying something different than the majority believes.  Thankfully, the Convention offered the opportunity to find a few compromises and some modifications to resolutions were made during the sessions.  At the end of the day, if you put a group of delegates from across two nations in the same room and then ask them to talk about the number and types of topics we covered, it’s only natural to uncover some differences of opinions.  I’m sure that, like us, most delegations took the time to outline the issues they wanted to cover and prepared their delegates to talk about them on the Convention floor on behalf of their memberships.  And like our delegation I am sure that they thought they knew everything there was to know about the issue and they were prepared to defend it at all costs.  Unfortunately, in a room that size, with a main issue that is slightly misunderstood, the path towards compromise can be very bumpy and becomes heated quickly. 

When that final gavel fell to end the Convention there was a feeling of satisfaction and accomplishment for our delegation.  We had worked together so well with our International and our sister Locals on countless issues to make this Convention a success for our membership.  On that final day we were also represented on stage by two of our rank-and-file Vice Presidents, Keith Jefferson, and Artan Shabani who, as always, shined in the spotlight.  Although the video that they contributed to wasn’t shown at the Convention because of time constraints, I can’t help but feel like we’ll see it soon at another International event.  Either way we appreciate the efforts that Keith, Artan and our entire rank-and-file VPs all made during this Convention.  We walked everywhere together and were proud to have the opportunity to both represent and serve our membership on all fronts.  

Being a part of this great Union never ceases to amaze me.  As many of you know, just prior to the Convention I lost my father.  He had a very long fight with Pancreatic Cancer, and although he kicked its ass for over 7 years, it eventually caught up to him.  The overwhelming outpouring of love, support, cards, and visits to his services from our Union truly amazed my family.  I guess no matter how long you do this job you never truly realize how big this Union family can be.  The sendoff my father received was something that made me proud, something he would have never expected and something that made my mother cry.  And even though I will spend the rest of my life missing him, I have these and so many other incredible memories to help me get through it.  Like every other time in my adult life, when I needed my Union, you were there for me.  That is why I will always be Union proud and Union Strong and why I will fight like hell to protect our membership and your families.  On behalf of my personal family thank you all from the bottom of our hearts.