The next big step


It was by no means an easy decision or a simple process, but after a few months of searching we have finally hired four new staffers here at Local 655, and the word of the day for all of them is “organizing.”

I’ve spent plenty of time using this space to emphasize the need for this local union to grow, and that’s never been more true. As some of our major employers struggle to hire and remain under-staffed –– a problem we hope to at least partially be able to address in our coming contract negotiations –– and automation looms to threaten more jobs, it’s never been more important for Labor to prioritize growth.

As I said on this very page recently, polling shows that unions are as popular as they’ve ever been, but a lack of information about how to join a union and the law stacked heavily in favor of management continue to make organizing a difficult challenge.

This is a challenge I am determined to make sure this local can overcome. If we cannot, then we will die on the vine, and workers everywhere, union and non-union, will suffer if Organized Labor continues to shrink.

When we began the process for hiring, more than 150 people, almost all of them our own members, expressed interest in the job. After several rounds of surveys, aptitude tests, and interviews, I am happy to say we have hired four new organizers here at Local 655.

It was not an easy process. First, the sheer number of interested applicants exceeded my expectations, and that gives me hope for the future. Knowing that this many people were even interested in this kind of challenging work was a refreshing thing to see.

Even as we began to narrow down the list of applicants through surveys and interviews, this would a very challenging decision to make. While we made the decision to hire four at this time, I can wholeheartedly say that we had more than four candidates who I felt could work here with great success. Eliminating some of our final applicants because of the constraints of our hiring budget was not an easy decision to make, and I have to use this opportunity to sincerely thank all the applicants who participated in this process.

Our new organizers begin next week. Three of the four of them are coming directly out of our stores. Sean Shannon and Danielle Pruitt are both joining us from Schnucks, and Sandra Nelson is joining us from Dierbergs.

Finally, a non-member, Chris Garcia, will cap off the list.

These new hires represent some of the diversity we’ve been seeking in new staff – not just of age or background — but diversity of experience. Whether younger or older, all four of these individuals bring unique strengths to this process, and I am eager to see what they can accomplish in the field.

Oh, and when I say the field, I mean it. These new hires will be put through the same organizing gauntlet that I faced as a fresh-faced hire at Local 655 decades go. They will be here at our offices for training for a week, and then we are pushing them right into the deep end of the pool.

We’ll be sending them out-of-town to organize in outstate Missouri. They’ll spend days at a time working the pavement as the saying goes, handing out leaflets, probing workplaces, and looking for workers who might be interested in joining a union. While this is by no means an easy kind of work, it’s the perfect way to get acclimated to the kind of work we expect from all our staff here.

Leaving town at a moment’s notice to help on a political campaign like ‘right-to-work’ (for less) or assist in another local’s strike or organizing campaign is common around here. Most importantly though is this kind of work really helps to clarify whether or not you have the deep passion that it takes to do these jobs.

It’s not for everyone, and that’s ok! But these jobs require a passion and a drive that not all people have, and a good way to find out if you have that level of passion is to send you out into the wilderness (metaphorically speaking) and seeing whether or not it beats you, or whether or not you thrive.

These new hires will be sent out to various corners of Missouri — where support for unions remains strong but where traditional union jobs, especially in manufacturing, have slowly faded away — to try to find places where a union is needed to improve workers’ lives.

I’m truly excited to see what they are able to achieve, and I’m eager to face the challenge of finding the right way to grow this local. Organizing has been the white whale of the Labor Movement for some time now — our greatest and most important challenge.

I do not expect our new organizers to crack the secret code to effective organizing overnight, and I don’t expect for Local 655 to reinvent the wheel. However, I do expect that this will serve as evidence to our staff and to all of our partners that we are committed to growing this organization and growing the entire Labor Movement.


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