USW activists talk community, bargaining power at District 10 Civil and Human Rights Conference

Members and activists of USW local unions across Pennsylvania gathered at Linden Hall for the District 10 Civil and Human Rights Conference the week of Oct. 31 to learn how to use bargaining power as a tool for change.

The roughly forty members participated in workshops focused on understanding power and privilege, fighting anti-LGBTQ+ discrimination, forming and utilizing Civil and Human Rights Committees within local unions, and unpacking how racism impacts health and safety. They also learned how to utilize social media and texting campaigns to engage their membership.

DeLisa Baldwin of Local 1688 said another way to get members involved and build strength as a union is to get out into the community.

“Our plant is in the middle of the city,” she said, “so it’s important for our union to volunteer and be seen and let them know we’re here and we care.”

Members at the conference also participated in the USW Health Care Workers Council’s first-ever workshop focused on protecting members’ access to medical and reproductive health care. Council Coordinator Tamara Lefcowitz outlined a new toolkit available to members and also detailed how local unions can bargain language in their contracts that benefit rural workers, including coverage of out-of-state travel expenses for specialty care like chemotherapy.

“Firstly, we want members to be educated on their right to ask for information from their employers,” said Lefcowitz. “We also want to promote the many different resources the union has available and the different paths members can take to protect each other.”

USW Vice President of Human Affairs Kevin Mapp ended the week with an address that called for holding the line and holding onto hope amidst the many challenges facing the labor and civil rights movements.

“It truly is going to take each and every one of us, as individual labor activists, to meet people where they are and move with them into the future,” said Mapp on Thurs., Nov. 3., the final day of the conference. 

District 10 Director Bernie Hall also closed out the conference with a reminder of the importance of union members using their collective power to fight for the working class.

“If it weren’t for unions, no one would be out there advocating for workers and lobbying legislators on behalf of our interests,” said Hall. “We have to show up face-to-face.”

Mapp handed out certificates to everyone who completed the week’s seminar, along with District 10 Civil and Human Rights Coordinator Leroy Atwater, who invited the members to keep the work they did at the conference moving forward.

“The best part about this week is the fellowship,” Atwater told them. “All we ask now is that you take something you learned here back to your locals.”

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