Pasqual Talamantesv’s involvement in organizing began with a desire to foster better communication and help empower workers with the knowledge that they aren’t alone.
“It is important to organize people who work at meatpacking plants since there are many people, who like many of us in the past, don’t know about their rights and the laws that protect us. People who have left a local, a union, to work somewhere else, realize that it is very different when you don’t have a union, and we have noted that it helps a lot. We have rights and we can change things so it’s not the same as before when we weren’t part of the union.”
Jessica Valenzuela has been an organizer with the UFCW for just two years, but it seems like a lifetime to her. “I’ve worked on so many different campaigns,” she says. “I feel like there’s never a boring day with my job.”
Jessica says that although she’s only been employed by the UFCW a short while, she has been involved with the union her whole life. “My mom and dad were representatives at Local 8-Golden State. So I’ve been aware of how unions help people and the problems that workers experience for pretty much my whole life, as long as I can remember.”
For Jessica, the job isn’t about just helping workers. It’s about empowering them to help themselves and to realize the power they have to change their working conditions. For Jessica, that moment—when a worker is empowered and ready to make change in their workplace—is the best part of being an organizer with the UFCW. “It’s great when you can help people realize they really do have power when they speak out. These are hard jobs, no doubt about it. But it’s great when you can help make them a little bit better.”
“When you’re an organizer,” says Jessica, “you really know that it’s not just about you. You get to meet all kinds of people and really get a bigger picture of the world than just what’s right around you. You see that things are wrong, people are mistreated, and you work to fix that, to change it. That’s what I love about this job.”
Maribel Ariza has worked at Farmland Foods for six years and is now a steward at her plant. She says she decided to become a steward once she realized that she could make a difference by learning how to help others and learning how to not be intimidated. She said the possibilities of what she can accomplish motivate her.
When asked about how it helped to join a union at her workplace, Maribel said “It means a lot, since belonging to a union makes us stronger. We feel supported. We don’t feel intimidated or like if they are treating us in a racist way. They treat us as their equals, because we have a union and we have support.”
When confronted with workers who don’t think they want to join a union, Maribel simply asks them to explain why. Usually they don’t know about the benefits they can get by joining and so Maribel takes the time to explain how joining a union can help them and their co-workers. “I tell them how we can help them to solve a problem, for example by helping another co-worker to recover her job or how to receive a pay raise,” she says.
Maribel strongly believes in the importance of organizing non-union plants. “It is very important to get them to join the union so they are not alone, and they have support, and that they know the union is there to help them and that the union is a force for everyone. . . . For me to have a bigger group means the power of the numbers. To have more people is to have more strength to fight against the injustices committed by the employers. I think having more people with us makes us stronger.”
Many of the local unions are working hard to organize several of meatpacking plants in Maribel’s area (Nebraska and nearby Iowa). Maribel knows that it is important to organize the plants so that everyone is united and so that everyone can have better benefits and wages. She believes that it would help with unemployment problems, since people would stay at their jobs longer if they were treated well by their employers.
“The point is that it’s important to invest in forming local unions, because if we invest that money we are not losing it, we’re going to get it back when we receive benefits, better wages and more respect with the union’s support.”