On Saturday, a diverse group of SEA/SEIU Local 1984 members gathered to discuss and brainstorm about the issues facing the union in an event we call a Wisdom Council.
Numerous state employees – including one part-timer – were joined by a retiree, a community college employee, a municipal worker and several union staffers. The group’s diverse backgrounds led to some lively and productive conversations on topics such as the perception of unions and the challenges we face today.
Anne Sullivan, a member of Chapter 31 – Town of Ashland, said she comes from a labor family. She said the members in attendance showed real passion for the topics at hand, especially on the misconceptions surrounding public employees.
“It was a heartening thing to see,” she said.
Sullivan said there were many different ideas and some proposed solutions – though not so much that she felt “we got that problem tackled.”
“That wasn’t really the purpose, though,” she said. “It was to get people thinking, and it certainly did.”
She called the level of participation “incredible,” and said there was no single, dominant voice.
“I thought there would be more people who sat back and said nothing,” Sullivan said. “I was impressed with the openness of it all.”
Ralph Mecheau, a part-time worker at the new Hooksett Liquor Store on I-93 North, said he came because he was interested in learning more about the union. He joined last year, and while this is his first foray into a union he said he came from a union family, just like Sullivan.
He said the event was interesting, and echoed Sullivan’s thoughts on participants’ openness.
“People came in with the right attitude,” he said. “You’ve got to bring that sort of mindset with you when you come.”
Mechau said he worries that the contributions of unions have gotten lost in rhetoric over the years.
“I understand the benefits unions have brought America overall,” he said. “I think in a lot of cases, though, there’s a lot of shortsightedness. People don’t know the history of many things, like why do we even have unions in the first place.”
Mecheau said he thought workers had more to contribute than just labor, and employers simply don’t take advantage of the wealth of knowledge that their employees have. He worked for many years in manufacturing and even operated his own business.
“In a factory if you want to restructure, the first thing you do is go to the floor, because the people on the floor know what’s going on,” he said. Including them in the decision making keeps workers from feeling disassociated from the work they’re doing.
The idea behind that is precisely what drives the Wisdom Council, and we’re appreciative of the contributions of all members who took part. The outcomes of the event will be presented to the SEA/SEIU Local 1984 Board of Directors for review.
Update: The summary of the process and outcomes from the June Wisdom Council have been compiled in this report.