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Celebrating UFCW Moms: Local 1189 Rep and Single Mother Tamara Jones on The Importance of the Labor Movement and Why She Loves Being Union

Tamara Jones has been a proud UFCW member for 14 years, and has been on staff since 2007.  She worked in activities at Viewcrest Health Center, in Duluth, Minnesota where she was a union steward and then became a member of the UFCW Local 1116 Executive Board prior to becoming a Union Representative.  She is also the Region 6 Coordinator for the UFCW OUTReach , a member of the UFCW Women’s Network, leader of the Northern Division Community Services Committee, board member of the 7th Senate District DFL Board, Fightin’ 15 Precinct Chair, President of the Carlton County Central Labor Body, member of the AFL-CIO/United Way Community Services committee, serves as a member of the Northeast Area Labor Council Executive Board, serves as a member of the Duluth Central Labor Body Executive Board, serves on the United Way Executive Board, is immediate past-President of the International Labour Council, and is a master Trustee with the International Foundation of Employee Benefit Plans.

This is her story:

One of my favorite mothers, Mother Jones (sadly, no relation) said that we should mourn for the dead and fight like hell for the living.

Growing up, I remember learning about the labor movement in my history classes. I learned about the railroad strikes, the Chicago Teamsters’ strike, the Pullman strike – and what I remember the most is that people died to make what we take for granted now possible.

It’s a sobering thought, but even today, all over the world, the labor struggle is real. It is violent. And people die. It’s why you should call your Senators and your Representatives and tell them to oppose fast-tracking the Trans-Pacific Partnership. The countries involved, namely Brunei and Malaysia, have horrific records of human rights abuses, and if we condone entering into trade with these countries, we are no better than they are.

It’s a grim reality.

However, there are glimmers of hope. Our union, UFCW, has been a strong advocate for workers around the globe. Through our partnership and support of UNI Global Union, they have successfully negotiated Colombia’s first ever collective agreement in the retail sector at Carrefour Colombia. It has a woman as president and it is thousands strong. UNI Global Union has over 52 agreements signed with multinational corporations across the globe, aimed at improving working conditions, better wages, and ensuring that corporations act responsibly with regards to their workers.

Here at home, UFCW has been blazing trails with its newly-formed constituency group, UFCW OUTReach. UFCW OUTReach is dedicated to building mutual support between our union’s International, regions, and locals and the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender (LGBT) community and their allies in order to come together to organize for social and economic justice for all, regardless of age, race, gender, creed, color, sexual orientation, or gender identity.

I’m proud to sit on the UFCW OUTReach executive board. Since our formation, we have worked to advocate inclusion of transgender health care benefits in our insurance plans. We have worked to educate our locals about the specific issues transgender individuals face when encountering immigration, and have advocated for immigration reform, especially ensuring that our LGBTQ brothers and sisters aren’t sent back into situations where they may be persecuted to death. We have educated many locals about the issues that are important to us as workers and as LGBTQ people, and encouraged them to educate their members as well as their legislators so we can avoid discriminatory legislation. We have partnered with excellent organizations to make sure that we are at the forefront of LGBTQ workers’ rights and are constantly advocating and empowering our rank-and-file members in their workplace to take a stand against discrimination.

The things listed above are things that I’m so proud of our union being involved in, I could burst.

However, what I’m most proud of in our labor movement has a more personal side. I am a single mom of four kids, two girls, aged 9 and 2 ½, and two boys, aged 7 and 5. My seven year-old has sensory processing disorder and ADHD. It has been a long journey to get him to where he is today.

Through my contractually-provided health insurance, he has access to the therapies and medications he needs to be successful in the world.  Through the contractually-obligated medical leave I have, I was able to not worry about being off and meeting my bills when I nearly died when my 2 ½ year-old was born.

Through the support of my brothers and sisters in the union, who have helped me countless times with transporting my children here or there or watching them while I advocate for them at the capitol, or have to take another child to an appointment, or handle a grievance, my children have learned and seen what the union is really about: taking care of each other. Not just in the workplace, but in our daily lives.

They’ve marched on the picket lines, they’ve been to rallies, and they’ve helped with food drives. To them, union isn’t a dirty word or joke. To them, it means family.

I probably overuse this quote from Paul Wellstone, but it really encapsulates everything that is good about the labor movement: “We all do better when we all do better.”

Being part of the labor movement is the only way to ensure that my children will be able to do better, no matter what they choose to do in life. Be it a spy nurse (7 year-old), a construction engineer (5 year-old), a fashion designer-teacher (9 year-old), or the world’s most stubborn person (2 ½ year old), the union has paved their way and will continue to pave their way.

Tamara's daughter Hazel, age 5

Tamara’s daughter Hazel

The whole gang: (From Top to Bottom) Walter, Leo, Marjorie, and Hazel

The whole gang: (From Top to Bottom) Walter, Leo, Marjorie, and Hazel

Tamara's son Walter, age 6

Tamara’s son Walter,

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

Tell Walmart: Help Striking Farm Workers

This post was written by our friends at UFW.

On March 17th, thousands of farm workers toiling in the San Quintín Valley—an export oriented agricultural region in Baja California Norte—walked off their jobs in protest of low wages, poor working conditions, and alleged violations of Mexican labor law. Nearly three weeks later, key demands made by leaders of the work stoppage have been largely unmet. At issue to date is an across the board wage floor of 200 pesos per day (about $13.00 USD, brought down from an initial demand of 300 pesos per day, or about $20.00 USD) and an overhaul of existing union contracts leaders claim serve employers’ interest more than those of workers.

Hundreds of farms in the valley export millions of tons of fresh produce each year to major US retailers.[1] While US consumers enjoy the berries, cucumbers, peas, and tomatoes produced in the region, farm workers who live and labor there say that with average wages currently running at about $7.00 to $8.00 USD per day, they are unable to meet their basic needs.

AdeliaAdelia Hernandez Zamora, who says she has worked at many different agricultural companies in her 14 years living in the San Quintín valley, shared the following:

“Supposedly the product we produce here for the other side is sold in dollars. We are paid in Mexican pesos. With the money we make, we are unable to meet [our needs]. We have kids in school. We pay rent… A kilo of meat costs 120 pesos. A carton of eggs is at 80 pesos. A kilo of tortillas is at 14 pesos. Water is at 14 pesos. We do not have plumbing in our homes and pay for water.”

ElizElizabeth Valenzuela Chavez is a single mother who works for Rancho Magaña. She says, “Food prices have gone up. Gas has gone up. What about our wages?”

Representatives for the region’s growers have claimed that the 200 peso daily rate the strike leaders are demanding would cripple the local economy.[2] Workers claim that that rate is the minimum required to meet basic needs in the wake of peso devaluation impacting local prices. This is a sign of dysfunction. But both identifying where the dysfunction is occurring and how to correct it is a responsibility that goes beyond the negotiation that took place between workers and their employers in San Quintín.

Reports of low wages and poor conditions in San Quintín follow a series of documented labor abuses in other export ag producing regions in Mexico. In response to those earlier reports, the largest buyer of Mexican produce, Walmart—an industry giant —said to the LA Times on February 12 that it would be stepping up its efforts in ensuring social responsibility in its supply chain. [3] This latest unrest presents an opportunity for consumers to let the retail giant know we are expecting them to come good on this commitment with the utmost urgency. Walmart can set a new standard for other players in the fresh produce business.

Join us and more than 25,000 other supporters in calling on Walmart and other leaders in the grocery retail industry hold powerful agribusiness companies such as Driscoll accountable by signing the petition at http://action.ufw.org/baja.

[1] http://www.latimes.com/local/california/la-me-baja-farmworkers-20150320-story.html#page=1

[2] http://www.latimes.com/world/mexico-americas/la-fg-baja-farmworkers-20150330-story.html

[3] http://www.latimes.com/world/mexico-americas/la-me-farm-labor-20150213-story.html#page=1