Saturday, March 7, 2015

Dispatch from West Virginia, March 4-March 6

Today at the Mountaineer Workers Rising Rally in West Virginia.

Our Teamster on the Ground spent the past week preparing for today's Mountaineer Workers Rising Rally happening now. We'll be getting more photos and dispatches, but here is his account of how it all came together: 
Wednesday, March 4

We are in the thick of planning our Mountaineer Workers Rising Rally this week, a two-hour labor event that will be an opportunity for shoulder-to -houlder solidarity against attacks on working families. It is expected to be the largest labor rally ever in West Virginia.

The team putting together the rally is a diverse and dedicated bunch of union leaders and staffers from SEIU, UMWA, UFCW, AFT, OEIU, Building Trades and, of course, the Teamsters.

The team is working hard (and fast!). There is much to do to prepare for a rally of this magnitude — everything from coordinating parking and crowd logistics to producing signage and printed materials to procuring staging and technical equipment.

At least 40 busloads of workers from across the state are expected to arrive by noon on Saturday at the steps of the State Capitol, coming from as far Cleveland, Ohio, to protest the Legislature’s anti-worker agenda.

We have been through several walkthroughs (and drawn multiple poorly-drawn maps). Each visit we discuss, debate and confirm the positioning of the press riser and the location of the stage and handicapped seating for what we think would make for the best viewing. “It’s easy to visualize after awhile,” said one of the guys on the team yesterday. I concurred, “It’s gonna look great.”

Speakers have already been confirmed, with Teamsters’ General Secretary-Treasurer Ken Hall — or Ken, as he prefers to be called — set to join the stage with AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka, United Mine Workers President Cecil Roberts and American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten. Ken will be serving double duties, speaking to the crowd as a representative of the IBT and Teamsters Local 175 President.

I never realized just how much work goes into staging a rally. Luckily, we have many friends to help us. Our brothers and sisters in IATSE and AFM are helping with entertainment. (IATSE is assisting with A/V and speaker systems and AFM is providing a drum line.) Meanwhile, the Teamsters — in addition to busing in hundreds of members and providing volunteer marshals — will be bringing in four of its famous tractor-trailer trucks.

Thursday, March 5

I awoke to a new blanket of snow covering Charleston this morning. It was not a surprise to any of us on the ground that there’d be snowfall. As the organizers of Saturday’s Mountaineer Workers Rising Rally, the weather is of paramount importance for turnout. Luckily, the skies are expected to be clear. The roads, however, are another story.

I was supposed to drive an hour south to Brighton for a 10:00 a.m. interview with Joe Powell, the 93-year-old President Emeritus of the West Virginia AFL-CIO. I had been told Powell was a true legend of the labor movement and that I’d be wise to try to meet with him.

In Charleston I heard even more stories about the veteran labor leader. My favorite came from a woman who told me the story of West Virginia’s AFL-CIO emblem. Most states, including West Virginia, show one white hand and one darker hand, representing workers of color. But West Virginia’s symbol added a third hand that rests on those two masculine-looking hands, and it is definitely feminine. Iin some versions it even has red nail polish. The man behind this was Joe Powell, and he made the symbolic change came without debate, or fanfare.

I did manage to reach him on the phone and tell him of the great work everyone had been doing to preserve his legacy. He was humble and gracious, agreeing to a rain check.

By mid-morning, the roads had cleared enough to drive out to Local 175 to meet up with Business Agent Luke Farley and Malissa Deweese. I walked into the local to the sound of cheering because Malissa confirmed the Kanawaha Police Department would block off the southbound lane of Kanawha Boulevard.

Our presence will be everywhere. So far, there are 18 buses to shuttle members who live outside Charleston, 17 volunteer marshals, four tractor-trailer trucks and bottled water.

Friday, March 6

I woke up early to meet Ken and Luke for breakfast at Bob Evans. Luke and I had a big day planned to film and photograph Teamsters at work, starting with a trip to UPS, where Ken was stopping by to meet with some workers to make sure they were coming to tomorrow’s rally.