It was a typical Oregon morning: overcast, drizzly. I was staring at the clouds waiting for Bob Marshal, a lifelong Union Organizer, to pick me up for our hour drive to Salem for Local 555’s Stewardship Summit. Here the Union Representatives come together, and prep for another year of championing the workers voice. But there’s more to this particular occasion—Union President Dan Clay is going to deliver his keystone presentation; setting the 2014 agenda on anti-worker laws and labor justice. Then tomorrow we’ll join together in Salem’s Capital Building for Lobby Day, where we’ll share our stories with the state’s representatives. There’s plenty to talk about when you’re sharing a ride with Bob Marshal. This nationally recognized union organizer, and amateur historian talks about ousting mob bosses, worker struggle, and life in the sixties. This long-time rabble-rouser still spends his days defending employees from abusive management.
“Help me grab the propaganda,” Bob said, “People hate it when I call it propaganda, but it’s not bad stuff, it’s how you influence people.” We brought our luggage, and fliers up to the lobby of the Grand Hotel.
The lobby’s a large juxtaposition of old world feel, with modern flare. The convention center is connected to the hotel–just down a short hall, lined with large historical photos of Salem. I dropped Bob’s propaganda off, and got in line at the table stacked with bright yellow shirts and blue accoutrements, our union chapter’s colors.
“What size are you sweetie?” a woman asked. “OK, here’s your shirt, we’ll get your jacket to you later.” Next table. Papers, itinerary, and a folder to organize them. Lastly, hot coffee, and a table full of treats, but time was tight and the meeting was starting. Secretary-Treasurer Jeff Anderson gave a few opening words, followed by a briefing on lobby training. When people think lobbying they think political bribery and corporate agenda, but here’s what they gave me, word for word:
You will typically use lobbying to:
- Educate an elected official about an issue
- Identify whether she is a supporter of your position, an opponent, or undecided
- Move a supporter to be a champion, or an undecided individual to be a supporter
- Soften or neutralize an opponent
- Elected officials are most responsive to their own constituents, and so constituents should play a central role in any lobbying effort. They also respond to those who have volunteered on their campaigns, and to their donors.
- In general, you are more likely to be effective if you can explain how taking the action you want will benefit the elected official or that official’s constituents, rather than just how it will benefit you. So, make an effort to see things from the office holder’s point of view.
People often put a negative frame on lobbying, but it’s not always bad–lobbying is conveying a message, simple as that. Now it was time for the main event: Dan Clay’s presentation on wages, growing disparity, and the corporate attack on workers. I had a minute window to talk with Dan before he began. I asked him, “What are we doing here?”
He said, “The next couple of days are about bringing union members together, to get perspective on what’s going on in the industry, what’s going on in the country, and what’s going on in the world. And get us all pointed in the right direction so we can, in fact, work better at making worker’s lives better here, and across the country.”
“So this you’d say is a huge catalyst for action?”
“Without a doubt it is a huge catalyst for action, and we’re hoping that tomorrow, at the state capital, we’re going see our issues brought up to the legislators, so that they understand, and respond with appropriate laws that deal with issues in the grocery and healthcare industry.”
“Tomorrow’s Lobby Day. How will it differ from the influence of money?”
After some thought he said, “Most lobbying is done by professionals; who do so on a contract paid basis, they do it for the money, and they’ll lobby for whatever issue pays the highest. UFCW members aren’t paid, they aren’t reworded for their lobbying, they’re real people who vote, who are getting to have conversations in their own words–with their own voice–with the people who make the laws in Oregon. And they deserve to have a voice–not just the rich–everyone deserves to have a voice, and that’s what tomorrow is all about.”
Dan opened with a lot of maps, he’s not hesitant to tell you how much he loves them. There’s a lot of information out there, plotting it correctly accomplishes exactly what a map seeks to do–guide. Mountains of data, and statistics paint a much different picture than the thick highway lines and state borders we’re all custom to seeing. The reality is the facts are a little horrifying. These slides shed light on the bigger picture—a derailed economic train. First, lets talk about women:
I knew the nation was behind, especially with woman’s rights, but the chart above points out a massive failure in the whole system—how can we expect equality without equal representation? We don’t have enough women in government. Every day women still have to fight for things men take for-grated while getting short-changed at the highest levels (and the lowest):
As these battles wage, a new monster has been quietly gaining strength—the growing gap between the world’s wealthiest and poorest. You might even be one of many working Americans who can’t afford food:
The wealthiest have siphoned out so much money it’s left Americans not just hungry, but constantly fighting health issues and homelessness.
The truth is that millionaires, and the generally well-off can’t even compare to the extremely wealthy handful holding all the world’s cards. In this next clip you’ll see exactly what Dan meant when he said he wants people other than the rich to get a chance to talk:
If you can’t afford to speak, guess what, you don’t get to. If money buys political voice, we’re all speechless. But, we have one wall standing between us and the grinding halt of the American work-force. Unions. These people fight for better wages, benefits, and coordinate to ensure worker fair-treatment at stores. Issues that are overlooked or that the state and federal law fail to cover.
Now corporate lawmakers have devised yet another scheme to fatten their wallets, and tear down the wall—anti-worker law. These are laws that make it so you are not required to pay Union dues. If you’re in a union, your current wage is negotiated for. It’s not money your employer is obligated in any way to pay you. There’s one clear agenda here, bankrupting our unions would save an employer millions of dollars that should be going to employees.
Lastly a member of Keep Oregon Working gave a short presentation about the anti-worker law coming to Oregon, and the kind of paid advertisements proponents of the law are, no doubt, getting ready air. Keep Oregon Working is on a campaign to educate Oregonians about these laws. They hurt everyone–not just union workers–it will lower everyone’s wages, and can threaten public safety. These laws are deliberately worded to be confusing and misleading. If you want more information on anti-worker laws and issues go to: keeporegonworking.org. It’s paramount that all of us understand the power we wield with our vote, and how its misuse can unravel the legal infrastructure we’ve built to protect ourselves, our jobs, and our economy. That wraps up the first day. I hardly scrapped the ice of the information covered, but there’s no doubt–it’s a catalyst for change.