Editorial: The Building Blocks of Our Labor Movement is Inclusion

Recently our Union has had several significant successful organizing victories that were spread across a few different industries.  In no particular order we have successfully organized: 1.  Petee’s Pies which is a small, family owned/operated pie production and retail sales company in Manhattan (we are currently working on their 2nd location in Brooklyn as I type this), 2. Four Gourmet Garage stores in Manhattan (owned by Village Supermarkets), 3. Square Roots Urban Growers, which is an urban vertical farm located in Brooklyn, 4. Blank Street Coffee, which is a chain of more than 40 coffee shops and carts located throughout Brooklyn and Manhattan (as well as other locations outside of NYC).  With the Blank Street Coffee campaign, we have successfully organized 3 of their “neighborhoods” (groups of stores) so far, with elections for 2 more neighborhoods pending.  In addition, our Organizing team has active campaigns at multiple other employers in some of the same industries as the employers listed above.

Over the years Local 1500 has always worked hard to organize workers, especially throughout New York City.  Although we had our share of successes along the way, we never had a period of consistent victories like we’ve had recently.  Everyone has probably seen multiple reports or articles highlighting a recent rash of strong worker support for Unions across the country.  Although I am sure that has contributed a bit, I think it’s more than that when it comes to 1500.  I think over the past few years our Union has taken on a posture of listening more and talking less.  I think the level of diversity and inclusion represented in your current Union staff has opened doors and invited conversations that we would’ve missed before.  I think our Union’s ability to remain objective and flexible to new ideas as opposed to our previous history of rigidity has helped us find successful solutions to scenarios that would’ve been a significant challenge before.  I believe Local 1500 is set up better now than it has ever been to both represent our current members very well while organizing new members in multiple industries across our jurisdiction.

If you look at our 15,000+ current members individually, you will find hundreds of differences among them.  We represent members who range in age from 16 – 90+.  We represent members who have come to America from hundreds of countries around the world, and whose families came here in pursuit of a better life.  We represent members who come from wealth, as well as those that work multiple jobs to make ends meet just to support themselves and their families.  We represent members of all colors, creeds, sexual orientation, gender identity, political affiliation & education levels.  We represent members who believe in many different gods and some that don’t believe in any.  We represent members that have committed crimes, served their time, and successfully matriculated back into the workforce.  Simply put, we represent every worker that wants to be represented, regardless of who they are, where they came from, or what they believe.

If we tried to appease the many personal opinions or beliefs inside our group, it would easily lead to disruption, disagreement, and fracture.  But when running a Union, we need to keep our focus on the things that bind us all together.  This practice allows us to harness the power of all our members and helps us create safer workplaces, negotiate better contracts, and successfully organize new members.  As the President of our Union, I can tell you that finding the right solution isn’t always the easiest thing to do.  Human nature causes people to focus more on what matters to them most, as opposed to what could benefit others more.  As a part of the leadership team of our Union that is not a luxury we have.  Every decision made to support or not support something (or someone), can or will impact our members and therefore must be made with consideration for what is best for our present and future members.  Some positions we take, some politicians we endorse, or legislation we support occasionally rubs some of our members the wrong way, and I fully understand that.  However, it’s never about what you or I personally think, or how this makes us feel, it’s about how it impacts our members and their families’ livelihoods.  

Today’s workforce is quite different than those from years past.  Mind you I said different, not better, or worse.  I think change is something that scares most people more than they would like to admit.  Too many people point out something different the moment they see or hear it, then tear it down so it sounds like it has less value than what they believe.  When you are part of a team running a Union you cannot have a kneejerk reaction to most things.  For example, I recently joined the ranks of the middle aged, which typically means I am too old to understand the opinions of young workers while too young to understand the opinions of our older ones.  Thankfully 30+ years working for our Union have taught me to listen thoroughly to the other side of every conversation (notice I didn’t say argument) and try to find value in what is being presented, while remaining focused on whether it makes sense for, or benefits, our membership, as a whole, in the long term.  

I thought it was important to write this article to try and offer a better explanation for some of the things Local 1500 does or doesn’t do.  No matter what, this Union represents its membership, which is made up of every kind of people, without exception, and must make its decisions based on that.  We do not discriminate, shy away from, or gravitate towards any specific group of people when organizing.  So why wouldn’t we make our leadership decisions with that same intent.  One of the building blocks of our labor movement is inclusion, and 1500 proudly represents that belief.  The only thing you need to belong to this Union is your membership card.  That membership card takes the thousands of differences among our members and blends them all together to create power and commonality.  Joining a Union creates an opportunity for someone with no voice to scream, for people with nothing in common to connect, and for people who see the world through completely different lenses to fight side by side for a common goal.  There is strength in numbers and belonging to a Union provides those numbers.

In conclusion, I ask that you please welcome our newest members to our Local 1500 family.  Whether they be from one of our recent organizing wins or are a new hire in your department, you should welcome them.  Whether they speak the same language or not, you should welcome them.  Whether they love or identify the same way you do, you should welcome them.  Whether they believe the same things that you believe in or not, you should welcome them.  Every member of this Union is vital to its success and our Union’s success can benefit every member.  It is impossible for a Union to be representative of every individual opinion or belief of its membership, but it can still represent every member.  The goals of this Union are to include everyone, ensure safe workplaces, negotiate, and enforce the best contracts across all industries, keep your elected officials respectful to your needs, protect the market share of your employers, and to make sure that everyone who wants to join a Union has that opportunity.  Those are all goals that we believe keep your united voice heard and allow you to celebrate your differences and individuality without fracturing our Unity! #MyUnionHasValue