Retrain America

We are the best trained, highest skilled, safest and most productive workers in the world. Who best to pass on our skills, and the importance of collective action through our union, to the next generation of utility workers?

Thursday, July 23, 2015

Retraining utility workers for the future delivery of life’s necessary resources is paramount to our future. Through the UWUA Power for America Training Trust Fund, we are making real gains in this area. Whether mandated by state utility commissions, negotiated at the bargaining table, or through common sense, many employers are beginning to realize the value of utility workers training utility workers.

We are the best trained, highest skilled, safest and most productive workers in the world. Who best to pass on our skills, and the importance of collective action through our union, to the next generation of utility workers?

Guest Speaker: Cindy Estrada, Vice President, UAW

Cindy Estrada, Vice President of UAW

Cindy Estrada, Vice President of UAW

Cindy Estrada, UAW Vice President who is a longtime union organizer and social activist, took the stage on Thursday to speak about the future of the next generation in the working world.  She outlined the difficulties faced as a working parent, and how it affects not just the parent but their children as well. This includes food stamps, water, safety, and transportation. She explained that the way to fix this would be to raise wages.  Estrada shared a startling statistic that “by 2016 the 1% will own 52% of the global wealth.”

“If a company wants subsidies, then they must pay their workers enough not to have to seek public assistance. When did it become a debate if a child has water, when did it become a debate if a child goes to school hungry? Our children should have the vision of hope and compassion. We must get back to remembering what we have in common and not being divided.”

“We must focus on the vision to create better jobs and better schools to have a better future.”

Play the video below to hear Cindy Estrada’s speech:

Guest Speaker: Colonel David Sutherland

Passarelli, Sutherland, and Mitchell

Passarelli, Sutherland, and Mitchell

Colonel David Sutherland, chairman and co-founder of the Dixon Center for Military and Veteran Services, addressed the crowd of delegates and guests on Thursday. He shared stories of service men and women leading from the front, using the leadership traits of character, knowledge, pressure, and motivation to create diamond leaders. Sutherland emphasized that leaders inspire ordinary people to achieve great things, and brave leaders go to uncomfortable places.

Stories about the veterans participating in the UMAP program were shared and several participants in attendance were recognized.

Colonel Sutherland and Lieutenant Commander Kim Mitchell, US Navy and co-founder of the Dixon Center presented a special award of recognition and appreciation to Rick Passarelli, veteran and business manager of UWUA Local 18007. The crowd rose in a standing ovation as he received the award.

Video: Easter Seals Dixon Center

UMAP Testimonial: Rick Passarelli

Rick Passarelli, Veteran and Business Manager of UWUA Local 18007

Rick Passarelli, Veteran and Business Manager of UWUA Local 18007

Rick Passarelli, business manager of Local 18007, executive board member, and chair of the UWUA Veterans Committee, took the time to outline what the Utility Workers Military Assistance Program (UMAP) is. He highlighted the fact that there have been over 200 participants in the UMAP program based out of Chicago, Illinois in partnership with People’s Gas.

Passarelli explained why employer partnerships are so important, and how union members training new union members creates a well-trained skilled worker that cares about safety and his colleagues. Many veterans have gone through the gas worker training in Chicago. The training will result in veterans being able to get a job after graduation starting at nearly $24.00 per hour.

Play the video below to hear Rick Passarelli’s speech:

Video: Fight Back

Jonathan Harmon, Executive Director, UWUA Power for America Training Trust Fund

Jonathan Harmon, Power for America Training Trust Fund Executive Director

Jonathan Harmon, executive director of the UWUA Power for America Training Trust Fund, started off his speech by explaining the Power for America (P4A) program. P4A is helping UWUA reclaim, retrain, repower, and repair America. It was created in 2009 to help members gain the skills needed for the utility jobs, with an emphasis on safety. Training programs include the Chicago People’s Gas UMAP project, the Consumers Energy training, and the Utility Lines project for veteran members.

P4A offers apprenticeships and helps members achieve college degrees. Training focuses on gas, electric, water, nuclear, solar, and wind positions.  Harmon learned the lesson “iron sharpens iron,” which means that those who already have the skills mentor those who do not. P4A has turned this phrase into “union training union,” and using the same meaning by using UWUA members as trainers for the new members.

Harmon shared information about the UMAP project and how the military has asked P4A to spread their training to their active soldiers. He dedicates all this hard work to Rick Passarelli.

“Over one thousand UWUA were trained through the P4A training through April, May, and June,” Harmon proudly stated. There is a 10,000 square foot training facility, and a new 5,000 square foot facility would be added in August.

Harmon outlined the 5-step hierarchy to union member training including: knowledge, skills, attitude change (towards safety and health), individual behaviors, and social action (looking out for others). Most training ends after knowledge and skills, but the union training adds those extra 3 steps that are crucial to learn safety and teamwork.

Play the video below to hear Jonathan Harmon’s speech:

Report: National Executive Vice President Steven VanSlooten

Steven VanSlooten, UWUA Executive Vice President

Steven VanSlooten, UWUA Executive Vice President

Steve VanSlooten, UWUA executive vice president, applauded all the members in attendance for fighting the fight because without them nothing would change. He encouraged everyone to step up and to complain when things are wrong or unfair, so they can be addressed and make a better future for everyone.

VanSlooten explained the three trusts at UWUA including the UWUA Deferred Compensation Trust Fund (401k), the UWUA National Health and Welfare Fund, and the UWUA Power for America Training Trust Fund. The UWUA Deferred Compensation Trust Fund (401k) is a 401k fund. It was a trustee-directed fund, meaning the member’s money was being handled/invested by the trustees not the members. VanSlooten explained that the fund has been changed to be an employee-directed fund.

The UWUA National Health and Welfare Fund changes included making it so that funds do not go delinquent for active members, and any that are at $0 will be reactivated and not be forfeited. “It’s their money and they’re going to keep it.” VanSlooten says.

He also shared that the UWUA Power for America Training Trust Fund has helped America by giving over 200 veterans a living wage job via the UMAP project in Chicago.

Play the video below to hear Steven VanSlooten’s speech:

Young Worker Initiative Committee Presentation


Matt Koch from Local 107 introduced the YWIC speakers including: Jason Colwell from Local 223, Clint Carson from Local 102-G, and Ryan Meadows from Local 175.  The YWIC  spoke about the Member-to-Member mentoring program, “It is meant for experienced members to teach new members.”

Union membership in America has fallen greatly from 1948 to 2010. America has forgotten the importance of unions and utility workers, but the young workers are determined to get America back on track because “That’s what union workers do, we come to win and we will win,” said Koch.

They explained that everyone needs to engage in the conversation. This can be strengthened by embracing technology since there are a lot more young workers. People are getting their information from social media such as Facebook and Twitter, and right now, social media is making unions look bad with false posts. The young workers have fresh ideas and excel by creating something new and helpful.

The group highlighted locals with examples of member-to-member mentoring programs that have had a great outcome overall. Each local has their own way of helping new members including food drives, picnics, communications, and orientations.

With the upcoming 2016 elections, the YWIC wants to make sure they stand up for themselves and create a good outcome. This will be done by standing in solidarity and building strong relationships with everyone, not just the young workers.

“Who better than us?” asked the Young Workers Initiative Committee.

Play the video below to watch the YWIC Presentation:

Lee Saunders, President, AFSCME

Lee Saunders, AFSCME President

Lee Saunders, AFSCME President

As a proud union member for more than 37 years, AFSCME President Lee Saunders has seen his share of political vitriol. Still, he has never witnessed the type of vicious attacks on working families that we are seeing today. As American workers, many of us were raised to believe that if we work hard and play by the rules, our lives will improve. “I don’t know if we can say that today, based on the challenges we all face,” said Saunders. We’re living in a country where the average CEO of a Fortune 500 company makes 331 times as much as the average worker.

Yet, Saunders pointed out, utility workers have one of the most dangerous professions in all of America. Again and again, it falls to our utility workers to shine light on the aging, sub-standard infrastructure we have all across this country. These inadequacies endanger lives and cost billions of dollars each year. Every day, our workers protect the safety of the very people who attack them, often going unnoticed or underappreciated. These – and all American workers – deserve to have a voice in the issues which affect them every single day.

Saunders highlighted AFSCME’s successful 50,000 Stronger Campaign as a shining example of how successful we can be when we work together towards a common goal. The campaign was so successful that they surpassed their goal and reached 92,000 new members. The program continues to strengthen AFSCME, having added a running total of more than 145,000 members today.

“Our entire labor movement must recommit and rededicate ourselves,” said Saunders. If the labor movement is strong in this country, then we can rebuild the middle class. But, it can only happen if we work together to reclaim respect and dignity in the workplace, to take our voice back, and to remind the public that working people are the heart of America. It is our responsibility, he said, “to talk to folks where they are at.” We need to educate the people around us about the values of the labor movement; not just other members, but family, friends, and neighbors.

Play the video below to watch Lee Saunder’s speech:

Report: National Secretary-Treasurer Mike Coleman

Mike Coleman, National Secretary-Treasurer, UWUA

Mike Coleman, National Secretary-Treasurer, UWUA

UWUA National Secretary-Treasurer Mike Coleman hit the ground running when he became an officer following the retirement of former Secretary-Treasurer Gary Ruffner.

In his speech, Coleman outlined mentoring, opportunity and fairness. Coleman spoke of his personal stories starting as a janitor at a gas company, to becoming the president of his Local G-555, and all the opportunities he has received along the way. He encouraged young workers to keep going and take those opportunities that will be offered to them along the way as well.

Coleman shared his mentoring stories including those with Michael Langford, Bob Chet and Ron Plum. He spoke about UWUA’s DC office and outlined what is being done there including grants, financial training for locals and officers, and updates on policies about income, payroll and technology.

“We are preparing ourselves for the future and the future of this union,” said Coleman.

Play the video below to hear Mike Coleman’s speech:

Report: National Vice President John Duffy

John Duffy, National Vice President, UWUA

John Duffy, National Vice President, UWUA

UWUA National Vice President John Duffy challenged the crowd to think about the GOP Presidential hopefuls and ask which side are they on. “They all claim to be for families, but each of them failed to actually do ANYTHING that helps families.” Duffy made the case that if any of these Republican candidates makes it to office, Right-to-Work will become national law, the private sector will be completely decimated, and there will be an open assault on our national labor act, causing income inequality to grow even worse than it already is.

Duffy stepped through each of the candidates and highlighted the glaring differences between what they are saying and what they are actually doing and have done to American workers. “We really don’t need politicians – Democrats or Republicans – to tell us what the problem is,” he pointed out. The decimation of workers is the problem, and we need strong labor laws, collective bargaining, and the right to join a union without fear of employer retribution in order to help balance the scales. Representatives must service the people, not the 1%. We must ask, “Which side are you on?”

Play the video below to hear John Duffy’s speech:

Resolutions, Committee Reports and Amendments

After completing many hours of preliminary planning, the UWUA 30th Constitutional Convention committee members made their reports on their findings and input from the delegation on each of their topics during today’s convention.  Each resolution was also brought to the table so that delegates could share their experiences and accumulated knowledge to vote on the resolutions listed below. Many members took the microphone to express why each resolution was so important, and how it affected their lives everyday at work and in society. Each of these resolutions were designed to increase UWUA’s ability to fight for the members, improve lives, and move UWUA forward to be better able to face the challenges of the future.

Resolutions Proposed and Accepted on July 23, 2015:

Additional Photos

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