“Welcome to Roswell, New Mexico, elevation 3,671 ft”. That simple sign greeted each of us as we walked across the tarmac. When the Young Workers’ Initiative Committee, along with our other national committees, got the call to help our brothers and sisters at Local 51, we leaped at the opportunity.
It was an eye-opening experience for many of us. On top of being relatively new to organizing, we were faced with different local issues that we don’t necessarily have in many of our home areas, such as right-to-work legislation and labor-averse legislators. Roswell, like many places across the country, has seen its fair share of socioeconomic woes and challenges over the last half-century. Stagnating wages, manufacturing closures, anti-labor laws, and the growing costs of medical care, education and housing have affected the area. As of 2019, 19.2% of its residents were living below the poverty line — a full eight and a half points higher than the national average.
We learned quickly that part of what makes unions so successful is our diversity of thought and background, coming together to solve a mutual problem. The six of us who attended representing YWIC came from five different states and six different fields. We gathered with the rest of the committees to receive organizing training and to help get membership cards signed by non-members. We found that what young workers lack in experience, we make up for in enthusiasm, technological savvy, and creativity. By bonding that with the strengths of our more senior brothers and sisters we were able to successfully get out into the community, get cards signed, and increase awareness of the benefits of membership and of upcoming meetings and Local 51 actions.
We left with this message still fresh in our minds: we succeed when we are united. The next generation of utility workers is here, and when we embrace “us,” there is nothing we cannot achieve.