High Hill, MO – Some kids go to camp to enjoy nature, develop new skills and hang out with their friends.
Chloe Goldstein did all that and more – learning about the American labor movement and the world of work, with hands on experience in contract negotiation, union leadership and grievance procedures at this summer’s Romeo Corbeil/Gilles Beauregard Summer Camp at the Laborers-AGC Training Center in High Hill, MO.
“We learned a lot about labor and negotiating and bargaining,” Goldstein, 16, of Cherry Hill, NJ, said. “I was put on the bargaining committee and we bargained to set the rules of the camp and I thought that was really fun.”
Along the way, Goldstein and 12 other campers, ages 13 to 17, also enjoyed the outdoors, toured union halls and training centers and visited St. Louis area landmarks, including the Arch and Busch Stadium. The Laborers-Employers Cooperation and Education Trust (LECET) supported the event by providing campers and staff tickets for the Cardinal game.
The 13 teenagers came from across North America to Missouri to participate this year’s camp from July 21 to 28.
The camp program was created in 1998 by the University of Missouri (MU) Labor Education Program, the Office and Professional Employees International Union and the Missouri AFL‑CIO. Today, the program also includes the Laborers and United Steelworkers District 11.
A NEW BEGINNING,
THANKS TO THE LABORERS
This year marked a new beginning and new location for the camp. For 14 years, the camp was held at the University of Missouri’s University Forest Facility near Lake Wappapello. When university budget cuts led to the decision to close the forest facility, the Laborers-AGC Training Center near High Hill stepped up to host the camp.
“It was refreshing to witness first hand young people experiencing what can happen when a group of workers or in this case campers organize and negotiate for the common good of all,” Laborers Training Director Lawrence LaMontagne said.
Other organizations support the camp through sponsorship of individual campers. Many Missouri labor activists volunteer their time by sharing their experiences with the participants.
A DEMOCRATIC EXPERIENCE
The camp is a democratic experience, with campers negotiating the rules and activities of the camp.
“They’re sponsored by a union and then they become a union of campers and they negotiate a collective bargaining agreement with our counselors to make some of the rules and outline the schedule of activities they will participate in during the week,” Sam White, a faculty member in the Labor Education program at MU said.
“It’s designed to teach them about the structure and function of the labor movement organization at work, how it functions by a hands-on sort of approach instead of just a lot of classes teaching them about this union or what that union does and how it operates.”
The campers have fun, but it’s also challenging, White said.
“The challenge is you’re asking them to do something that even few adults would ever try to do, which is to organize in the workplace, engage in collective bargaining, and develop the means to represent one another,” White said.
“When they have this idea that if we can stick together we can do something that would benefit all of us, it sounds good and they’re interested in that. They get to set some of the rules and get to decide some of the activities that we’re going to do. They have some control over the educational content. They think it’s really exciting and then they realize it’s also very difficult. It’s hard to negotiate a contract that is fair for all the campers, counselors, and staff and that all the people involved in the camp will support.”
In the process, White said, campers develop a better understanding of the labor movement.
“Kids don’t get any information about labor. They don’t really understand the goals and objectives and history of organized labor,” White said. “This allows kids to learn about organized labor in a camp environment so they have respect for what their parents do and have some sense it, and of trying to create a fairly decent and equitable environment in a place of work. We simulate that.”
For more information on the camp, contact Paul Rainsberger, director of the MU Labor Education Program at (573) 882-8358.