By SHERI GASSAWAY
Laborers Local 110 President Ronny Griffin, CWA Local 6355 President Natashia Pickens and Fight for $15 union organizer Stanley Jackson were honored at this year’s Coalition of Black Trades Unionists (CBTU) St. Louis Chapter Martin Luther King Jr. Human Rights Awards banquet Jan. 20 at Sheet Metal Workers Local 36 Union Hall in St. Louis.
The annual awards recognize the honorees for their contributions to the community and Organized Labor in the tradition of Dr. King.
Speakers included St. Louis County NAACP President and UAW retiree John Bowman, SEIU Local 1 janitor and executive board member and a janitor Eugene Hubbard, and St. Louis Labor Council President Pat White.
‘HEADING IN THE RIGHT DIRECTION’
“I want to congratulate tonight’s honorees. They are more than deserving of tonight’s honor, and I am proud to call them my friends,” White said. “As a movement, we have been striving to inject more inclusive policies into our organization.”
White said some of those efforts include the St. Louis Building & Construction Trades Council’s Building Union Diversity (BUD) program, which is designed to help minorities and women enter into and succeed in the building trades, and negotiating minority and women participation numbers in major construction projects.
“Efforts have also included training our predominantly white male leadership on race and social justice along with many other diversity programs,” White said. “We have a long way to go, but we are heading in the right direction.” (See White’s full statement here.)
FIGHTING FOR DIGNITY AND RESPECT
St. Louis Prosecuting Attorney Kim Gardener, the evening’s keynote speaker, noted how Dr. King’s last major effort was the Memphis, Tenn., sanitation workers’ strike.
What those men were really fighting for, she said, was their dignity and the right to be treated as men.
“Like those courageous sanitation workers, CBTU continues to fight for more than higher wages and better working conditions,” Gardner said. “They fight for a life of dignity and respect.”
Ronny Griffin, president, Laborers Local 110 – Griffin was elected to the Local 110 Executive Board in 2003, and in 2006 was elected vice president. In 2011, after 32 years with Fred Weber, Griffin became a full-time business representative and now serves as president of Local 110, the largest Laborers local in the St. Louis metro area.
Griffin talked about how union membership can change the lives of minority workers.
Griffin said a recent BUD graduate said to him, after completing the program, “It’s nice to know that your dreams don’t have to be dreams.”
Natashia Pickens, president, CWA Local 6355 – Pickens became president of Local 6355, which represents state public sector workers in 2017 after serving three years as vice president.
She began her career with the Missouri Department of Social Services in the Family Support Division as a caseworker in 2005. She joined Local 6355 in 2011 and became a steward the following year. Along with another co-worker, Pickens was able to get 80 percent of her office organized.
Then, in August 2018, the Republican-led Missouri legislature passed Senate Bill 1007, a law that stripped state employees of their civil service protections, turning state social service workers into at-will employees, and House Bill 1413, a “paycheck deception” measure requiring recertification votes for most public-sector unions to continue their representation, limits topics could be bargained and requires annual employee permission to deduct dues or other fees from paychecks or to spend money on political causes.
Pickens said the bills took away virtually every right state workers gained from being in a union and asked audience members for their support, urged them to call their legislators to request an overturn of the anti-union bills.
(Editor’s note: A St. Louis County Circuit judge last week ruled that HB 1413 was unconstitutional and issued a permanent injunction prohibiting the State of Missouri and other defendants from enforcing it.)
Stanley Jackson, Fight for $15 organizer – Jackson joined Show Me $15 in 2013 as a canvasser and was later hired as a full-time organizer and has been fighting for fast food workers in the St. Louis area to have a $15-an-hour minimum wage and the right to form a union.
“My father-in-law was a pastor, and he preached a sermon one time, and said, ‘When you see a good fight, jump in,’” Jackson said. “Seven years ago, I saw a good fight, which was Show me $15, and I jumped in and I’ve been in it ever since.
“Only the people and faces change, but the stories don’t,” he said. “That’s why we must keep fighting for what we want. It’s the only way.”