Sunday, March 29, 2009

Tale fron the Field: Zach Werkowitch

I think I saw my first, albeit small, success today. Really, I'm not sure how much it had to do with me. I phone banked for the last two days to get people there and helped cook some hot dogs. I think members really did most of the work. We had an open house today at the state hospital in Pueblo for WINS members to get the word out about their upcoming elections to elect a DHS negotiating team. Right now, with WINS being so new, membership is relatively low at the hospital. Many folks are hesitant to sign up. As best I can tell, being so new, workers are hesitant for a few main reasons. First, it seems they don't want dues taken from already stretched paychecks. They are also resistant to throwing themselves behind yet another attempt at organizing, following several failed attempts in the past. It seems that management is throwing up roadblocks as well.

Mostly today, I spent time sitting and listening next to my lead organizer as he talked to workers, both members and not, about their jobs. All were attracted by the free hot dogs and chips. But many were also full of questions about how to handle grievances with supervisors, how much dues would be, why they should join. State employees in Colorado have it pretty rough. Many have not seen raises in five years or more. They are constantly short-staffed. In a few cases, management is downright hostile. Health insurance costs too much and covers too little. And in our current economy, the state is cutting corners more and more often.

But, by and large, they love their jobs. In most cases, they could make considerably more money in the private sector. That is not what it's about. They genuinely feel good about providing valuable services to those that need it most.

My lead's answers were of course varied. However, all carried a main thread. Alone, you can't really do anything about your situation. And with membership as low as it is right now, it will be tough for all of you together to do much. But how much longer can you afford to wait? What is 1% for dues when faced with the opportunity for your first raise in years? When you're paying upwards of $700 a month for health insurance? The state is not cutting a billion dollars from its budget over the next two years so that it can give its employees raises or better health insurance. Obviously, conditions will not get better on their own.

His answer was to join with your coworkers and build this union. This organization does not belong to the organizers. It belongs to the workers. The task now is to steadily grow this organization, so that the state will see that its employees are serious about change.

It came down to a venerable activist's maxim: If not me, then who? If not now, then when?

ZW 3/24/09

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