UFCW Gold Internship Recap

GOLD-Group-Photo-300x200The GOLD Internship Program came to a close last week at a final debrief in Chicago. Thirty six interns reflected upon their four week action projects and planned for how they could be effective activists when they return to their local unions. Action projects took place all across the country.

  • In Chicago: GOLD interns helped deliver 25,000 signatures to the Mayor in support of paid sick leave.
  • In Mississippi and North Carolina: GOLD interns helped hundreds of people register to vote.
  • In California: GOLD interns helped the “Summer for Respect” campaign in their fight to give workers a stronger voice.
  • In San Francisco: GOLD interns campaigned for the Retail Worker Bill of Rights, a bill which would guarantee fair schedules and full-time hours for retail workers.
  • In Iowa City: GOLD interns partnered with the Center for Worker Justice to document cases of wage theft.
  • In Washington D.C., South Carolina, and Florida: GOLD interns traveled to poultry facilities to capture stories from UFCW members who were injured while on the job.

Here’s what interns said about their GOLD internship experience: “One of the biggest things I learned from this program is that you can make a difference if you just try. We held a workshop to inform immigrant workers of their rights, and help them with the housing process. It was amazing to see how much they appreciated something that was fairly easy and simple to do. Making a difference in the community is something new to me—I’m not a steward and I wasn’t ever overly involved with my union, but through GOLD I learned a lot and am looking forward to going home and helping to improve my own community.” – Gerardo Garcia, UFCW Local 99, Iowa City Worker Center Action Project.

“It was a great summer – it just felt good to help people and be a part of a movement. Instead of just saying ‘I don’t like my job’ or ‘we need a raise’ this internship taught me how important it is to stand up and involve yourself and your co-workers. If someone were considering this program, I would tell them to do it. If I learned anything this summer, it’s that the more active people we have in our union, the better life will be for workers everywhere.”  – Fawzi Ghantous, UFCW Local 1445, Organizing in Maryland Action Project.

“I became a GOLD intern because too many union members, myself partially included, don’t fully understand what our union is about. They have no idea what we stand for, and that makes me really sad. This internship builds us up and gives us the knowledge to go back to our locals and give them inspiration to say, ‘You know what, we are one! And if you have an issue, we are fighting it together; you don’t have to do this alone.’ I’ve been a union member for almost 12 years, and I didn’t realize the power we have until this summer. Now I know that I have a lot of people backing me up and fighting for me.” – Tracy Officer, UFCW Local 653, Organizing in Seattle Action Project.

“I personally think people should become GOLD interns because you take away more than just the organizing aspect of it—you take away more than just learning about the history of what the union is— I’m going to be taking away friendships that will last a lifetime and connections with people from other places that I never would have interacted with if I hadn’t been a GOLD intern.” – Samantha Christian, UFCW Local 770, Freedom Summer Action Project in Jackson, Mississippi.

“My favorite part of the summer was when we did a sick time action that was a huge success. A lot of people showed up and we had people honking horns, we had customers going in and telling management they support us 100%. We did a petition and ended up collecting about 600 signatures from associates and customers and we presented them to the managers inside. It felt good to feel like we had accomplished something and it was just a really moving experience to see how happy and supportive everyone was.” – Ariana Marie Davis, UFCW Local 21, “Summer for Respect”, Northern California.

“I would say do this program. There are problems in every workplace and the GOLD Internship is a good way to meet people that might have similar stories and possible solutions. You are in a setting in which you can feed off of each other—take ideas and adapt them to your situation.” – Erica Clemmons, UFCW Local 1059, Earned Sick Time Campaign, Chicago, Illinois.

Although the internship has ended, the real work is just beginning. The skills and experience learned by interns will carry beyond this summer – GOLD interns will be an asset to UFCW Locals and the International for years to come.

Member Spotlight: Patricia Bryant

In this week’s member spotlight, we spoke with Local 1208 Member Patricia Bryant who works at Smithfield Foods in North Carolina. Patricia’s story is an inspiring one.

Originally from Ontario, Canada, where she grew up around uncles who had been active in auto unions at the nearby GM plants, Patricia worked as both an illustrator and registered nurse before moving South later in life. After arriving in North Carolina, she needed work and began working at Mountaire Farms, where she remained for a year. Looking for a better job, she moved on to nearby Smithfield Foods, where she has worked and been a union member for almost two years now.

After about a year at Smithfield, Patricia wanted to become more involved in the union and became a steward. She was motivated after seeing some injustices taking place behind the poultry production lines where she worked–such as seeing her coworkers, which Patricia refers to as her friends, being pushed too hard to keep up with fast line speeds, which damage their joints over time. Becoming a steward allowed her to learn more about the rules of the plant and what resources being a union member enabled her to use in order to deal with issues at the workplace.

Patricia says that they now have a new supervisor who actually listens to the workers: “When I talked to him about issues on the line, he opened his eyes to them and heard us out.”

When asked why she believes being active in one’s union is important, Patricia notes that if you can go out of your way to help a fellow person, you should:

“I’ve always been a big mouth,” she laughs, “I think its important because I’ve had the opportunity to go to school and learn about these things–and I don’t think everyone has had that chance–so I have the responsibility to speak out for all those who can’t, and to help others. Being on the line and seeing all these things first hand, I have to.”

“I think unions make better working conditions for everybody,” she adds.

photo (4)Patricia learned that Local 1208 was holding a talent contest, which invited singers, poets, writers, and anyone else to offer up their talents. So Patricia went to Local 1208 President Keith Ludlum and said she’d be willing to paint–a gift she says she gives up to God. Keith gladly accepted Patricia’s offer and told her that that Local would love to have a mural that included Martin Luther King Jr. and former President John F. Kennedy painted on one of their walls. So paint she did. Patricia says she’s been painting since she was 12 years old. “If I see something beautiful, I just have to paint it!”

Now, with the Local planning to potentially move offices, Patricia is planning another mural for Local 1208. She wants to create a surreal painting that features metallic, industrial type imagery and workers, to represent her friends, she says.

Patricia is actively involved in the campaign at Mountaire Farms as well. She has been to two organizing actions, where she sees her friends and former coworkers as they drive into work,and recently attended a gathering of Mountaire workers in which actor Danny Glover came to speak in support of them.

“It’s fun,” she says of the actions, “and when my friends see me wave, pushing for them, hopefully they’ll see that there’s something better on the other side.”

Having worked at Mountaire Farms for a year, and seeing how the union makes a difference at Smithfield, Patricia fights hard for her friends who still work at Mountaire.

“They are going through a whole lot more [than us]–lower pay, benefits that aren’t as good–my friends there work for their families that they are trying to support, and have bills to pay. If they are able to see a light at the end of the tunnel, I gotta push for them. These are good people–they go to work everyday, on time, but the industry tends to make us machines with a number. That’s why I’m yelling and pounding the pavement at these actions.”

Patricia also remembers a friend who she worked with at Mountaire, who came from Africa against her will, and ended up at Mountaire. “She works long hours, and has three kids by herself. If she made a little bit more, she could maybe send for her brother that she’s been trying to bring over from Africa. She deserves a good living.”

Patricia also notes that the employers at Mountaire make it hard for the four main ethnic groups at the plant–Mexican, Haitian, African American, and Caucasion folks–to stand together or in some cases even communicate.

“The Haitians speak French, but they fired their translator so now no one in the plant can talk with them,” she says.

That’s why those helping the workers at Mountaire to unionize are trying to connect with each group about issues that matter to them. Now, many of the workers are coming to meetings and taking through the issues they face on the job.

Patricia fights for her former coworkers and friends because she sees what a difference a union job can make in someone’s life, and she works to better conditions at her job everyday.

If you have a story to share about being a UFCW member, contact us here!

101-year-old UFCW Retiree Thanks Joe Hansen for Pension Increase

mary 100 cropMary Tomazi, a UFCW retiree and former employee of Local 655, recently sent a letter to UFCW International President Joe Hansen to thank him for the cost of living increase to her UFCW International Pension Plan.  Ms. Tomazi worked at the Health and Welfare Department at Local 655 for 18 years and retired in 1978.  She celebrated her 101st birthday in March and attends Local 655 meetings every month.  She has been an active member of the Local 655 Retirees’ Club since 1978.

The letter reads:

Dear Sir:

Thank you for my $5.00 raise as of July 1st, 2014.  I retired March 31, 1978 and I go to the Local 655 meeting every month since I retired.

The raises have been very much appreciated.

I was 101 years old March 16, 2014.

Thank you again.

Yours truly,

Mary Tomazi