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Member Spotlight: Towanda Carter

towandaTowanda Carter was recently recognized by UFCW Region 1 for her outstanding service as a union member and for helping her fellow workers, both at her own workplace and elsewhere.

After noticing unfair treatment of workers at her job working at Catholic Charities Brooklyn & Queens Inc. in 2005, Towanda and her coworkers filed to unionize with the UFCW Local 888. Her strong morale and sense of member engagement among her colleagues helped them win their first union contract in 2006.

Towanda says that working in a metroarea at a non-profit revealed to her how people are often mistreated at work, especially when they are vulnerable. Although she works for a charitable faith-based organization, management had a very anti-union stance.  The Workers were under-paid, demoralized and lacking adequate company health care–leaving many to seek charity care. Many could not provide for their families without assistance from social welfare programs. That’s why Towanda was so adamant about spreading the word about the benefits of being a union member.

Years later, Towanda is a Chief Shop Steward, representing her fellow union members on both the Bargaining and Labor Management Committees. She has also expanded her efforts to help working people throughout her community, not just her own workplace.

As a Medical Coordinator serving the less fortunate for twenty years, Towanda has been a voice of justice for her fellow union members since the beginning. She has seen her coworkers through countless grievances and group grievances, and mediations and arbitrations–all as part of their ongoing struggle to keep their employer accountable to the collective bargaining agreement they all worked so hard for.

Towanda says she was surprised to learn she had been picked to be recognized for a member award, but honored as well. Her advice for other members trying to ensure that workers have respect on the job and at the bargaining table? “Be proactive. Be active!”

Union members and activists like Towanda make our union strong. Standing together, we can all make a difference.

Hispanic Heritage Month: Honoring Cesar Chavez and Delores Huerta

Dolores Huerta, standing with OUR Walmart members and workers during the Ride for Respect in summer 2013.

Dolores Huerta, standing with OUR Walmart members and workers during the Ride for Respect in summer 2013.

Hispanic Heritage Month provides us with an opportunity to pay tribute Cesar Chavez and Dolores Huerta, two great labor leaders who co-founded the National Farm Workers Association (NFWA) and helped to organize the Delano Grape Strike—one of the most successful strikes in labor history.

On September 8, 1965, Filipino farm workers in Delano, Calif., who were members of the Agricultural Workers Organizing Committee (AWOC), walked off the job at table grape farms in the area to protest the low pay and poor working conditions.  The leaders of AWOC knew that a successful strike had to include the many Latino farm workers in Delano, and they reached out to Chavez, Huerta and the NFWA to join them in their fight for dignity and respect on the job. Chavez insisted that the Filipino and Latino strikers work together and take a vow to remain nonviolent, and expanded the goals of the strikers to include the right to unionize and engage in collective bargaining.  Realizing their common goals, the NFWA and AWOC merged to form the United Farm Workers Organizing Committee in 1966.

In 1966, Chavez led a strike of California grape workers on a 300 mile march from Delano to Sacramento to raise awareness for their cause.  Soon, the strike spread to thousands of workers and the movement gained national attention and support from around the country, including the support of Robert F. Kennedy.  In 1967, Chavez shifted his focus and urged consumers and supermarket chains to boycott table grapes.  In response to the plight of the farm workers, Americans throughout the country refrained from buying table grapes in a show of support.  After five years of nonviolent strikes, boycotts, marches and fasts, the United Farm Workers Organizing Committee succeeded in reaching a collective bargaining agreement with table grape growers in California in 1970—resulting in better pay, benefits and workplace conditions for thousands of farm workers.

In 1972, the United Farm Workers Organizing Committee was accepted into the AFL-CIO and changed its name to the United Farmworkers Union. A year later in 1973, Chavez and Huerta led another successful consumer boycott against California grape growers that resulted in the California Agricultural Labor Relations Act of 1975, which allowed farm workers to form unions and bargain for better wages and working conditions.