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UFCW Local 655 Members Support Groundbreaking Candidate in Landmark Ferguson, Mo., Election

Last week, Ella Jones became the first female African American candidate to be elected to the City Council in Ferguson, Mo., thanks in part to the endorsement and support of UFCW Local 655. UFCW members got involved in the local race because of their desire to elect local leadership that was a better reflection of the diverse citizens of Ferguson.

Although 70% of Ferguson’s population is black, only one African American held a seat on the City Council. After record voter turnout in this off year election, three African Americans were elected to the Council, including Jones.

Jones has strong ties to labor and understands the difference that belonging to a union family can make.  Throughout her campaign, Jones advocated for creating sustainable work opportunities for Missouri youth, and for the value of a union contract and a voice on the job, saying that, “when workers have good jobs and thrive, our communities do as well.”

“My husband was a member of International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 1,” Jones said. “For many years, having a union contract was the only way an African American could have a stable job and earn fair wages. Being a union member made the difference for my family. It’s why we could have a good life. That’s why I support unions and union jobs – so families can have the same experience we did,” said Jones.

After meeting with Jones and having extensive conversations on issues important to constituents, UFCW Local 655 members eagerly endorsed her candidacy. Many UFCW Local 655 members contributed donations to her campaign, hand billed at worksites to spread the word about her platform, and made sure people went to the polls on voting day.

“After the turmoil and upheaval experienced by the citizens of Ferguson, voters like UFCW 655 members knew that a new governing board was needed to shift the focus back to the people who are the roots of the community in order to get the city back on its feet,” said Local 655 President Dave Cook.

Ella Jones became the first female African American candidate to be elected to the City Council in Ferguson, Mo

Ella Jones became the first female African American candidate to be elected to the City Council in Ferguson, Mo

UFCW Local 655 Hosts Diversity Training for Local Leaders

UFCW Local 655 members and staff in Saint Louis, Mo., attended the first Equity and Inclusion Diversity Leadership Training put together by the UFCW Civil Rights and Community Action Department. Over the course of two and a half days, about a dozen UFCW Local 655 leaders from a variety of backgrounds participated in the first session of the three-part diversity training series. The training was developed to help increase staff and members’ knowledge and awareness of diversity issues and elevate the importance of inclusiveness in local unions. The program focuses on local union leaders developing cultural competence with a new set of attitudes, skills, and behaviors in order to have themselves and their organizations work effectively in cross-cultural situations and workplace diversity. Ultimately, the trainings are designed to empower participants to take action and help steer their local union to develop and promote organizational equity and focus on fairness in order to create change in a local union’s culture.

“Stepping outside of my comfort zone may be uncomfortable, but it can be a stepping stone for my future responsibilities as a leader in my local union. Thanks to the diversity training, I am ready to go back to work and start taking action to build relationships with other members to empower us to stand united for justice and equality in our union and in our communities,” said UFCW Local 655 member Amy Nichols.

UFCW Local 655 hosted their diversity training for local union leaders in response to the recent events in Ferguson, Mo., and the impact that the Ferguson events have had on the labor movement in the state. The first session in the diversity training is titled “Why Diversity Matters.” During this session, participants were involved in an open dialogue about the origin of racism, and the history of racial inequality and its roots in economic injustice. They examined different identities and how they relate to people in the workplace and society. Participants discussed the ways people experience or observe different forms of discrimination at work and in the community. They also learned about what being an ally and having solidarity means in a labor context.

“We need to have the difficult conversations with our coworkers, members, and the community about why this fight for equality is so important. We need to take the conversations from the trainings out to our workplaces and communities if we want to start taking real action to create change and an environment of inclusiveness,” said UFCW Local 655 staffer Theresa Hester.

During the first session, participants were later joined by young activists from Missouri, who are fighting for social and economic justice in Ferguson and throughout the state. Participants will follow up the training with recruiting members and coworkers for the April 15 Workers’ Day of Action activities.

“In today’s America where we are more diverse as a country than ever, it is incumbent on current labor to develop future leaders that act and look like our society. If our current labor leaders do not provide the needed training to a young diverse workforce our labor leaders tomorrow will not reflect the make-up of our society. On a broader spectrum, I would hope all leaders not just labor leaders would be training for a more diverse leadership team in the future. I believe the best possibility to end the wealth disparity in America is to have diverse leaders in the future and the only way to achieve this is to provide leadership training today to a diverse group of workers,” said UFCW Local 655 President Dave Cook.

“The training for new UFCW leaders is critical at this juncture of the union movement. Union leaders will need to have new skills to recruit and engage members in a changing workforce demographic. I’m encouraged to see union leaders such as UFCW Local 655 President Dave Cook, taking the initiative to embrace this challenge of diversity and racial equity and getting leaders in the local involved. Unions must take on the dual fight against the various “isms” both inside and outside the union. Unions are a critical part of the social justice movement that’s building power for all workers,” said Jamala Rogers, one of the diversity program trainers, a retired teacher and member of AFT.

UFCW Local 655 will complete the other two parts of the diversity program in the coming months. The second session will be “Race and Politics,” which will take place in July, and the third session “New Generation Diversity: I Am Today’s Leader,” will take place in November.

To see some great discussion and other highlights from this training session, click here.

To learn more about the diversity trainings and hosting a training at your local, contact the UFCW Civil Rights and Community Action Department at civilrights@ufcw.org.

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Women’s History Month: From Woolworth’s to Walmart, the Fight for Workplace Justice Continues

The last few days of Women’s History Month present us with an opportunity to pay tribute to women past and present who have taken a stand against the biggest employers in our country—Woolworth’s and Walmart—in the continued fight for social and economic justice.

Seventy-eight years ago during the Great Depression, over 100 female employees of Woolworth’s in downtown Detroit began a sit-down strike at their store for better workplace conditions.  At that time, Woolworth’s was the Walmart of its day, with more than 2,000 stores in the U.S., Canada, Cuba, Britain and Germany, and over 65,000 employees who were mostly young women. As the largest retailer in the country, Woolworth’s was well known for its low wages, long hours and anti-union practices.

On February 27, 1937, the women who worked the counters, cash registers and storerooms at the Woolworth’s store in Detroit decided that a sit-down strike was a way to draw attention to their fight for better wages, hours and overtime pay.  Previous sit-down strikes organized by rubber workers in Ohio and autoworkers in Michigan had been successful and served as a source of inspiration for the women.  The sit-down worked and the national media flocked to Detroit and compared the modest demands of the Woolworth’s women to the opulent lifestyle of Barbara Hutton, heiress to the Woolworth empire and, at the time, one of the richest women in the world.

The sit-down strike had support from the hotel and restaurant employees unions, as well as from labor leaders, including the head of the UAW.  When strikers shut down a second Woolworth’s store in Detroit and threatened to shut down all 40 stores in the area, support for the strikers spread throughout the country, including in New York City, where the retail clerks’ union launched a solidarity campaign. The strike also influenced Woolworth’s competitors to raise wages to head off similar sit-down strikes at their own stores. The strike ended on March 5, when Woolworth’s agreed to the workers’ demands, including a union contract for the 40 Woolworth’s stores in Detroit.

Today, Walmart is our country’s largest private employer, and it’s low-wage, part-time business practices have put a financial strain on too many Walmart women and their families.  Like the courageous women of Woolworth’s, OUR Walmart members have used the sit-down strike to protest Walmart’s disrespect of their rights.  OUR Walmart members have also compared the enormous wealth of the Walton Family, heirs to the Walmart empire, to their reasonable call for $15 an hour and access to full-time hours. While members of OUR Walmart have had several victories, such as better workplace policies for pregnant women through the “Respect the Bump” campaign and the recent announcement by Walmart that it would raise wages for 500,000 hourly associates, the fight for decent wages and hours continues.

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Some of the 100 female Woolworth workers who participated in a sit-down strike (top) and a recent photo of Walmart workers speaking out to stop retaliation in their workplace.

From the Woolworth’s strike of 1937 to the OUR Walmart member movement, these workers have shown that by sticking together, positive change is possible even at our country’s largest and most powerful employers.