Chapter 54 Leaders Building Skills, Making an Impact
Without its members, a union would cease to exist — members are the union. While members make up the union’s governance structure and committees, they don’t often have the opportunity to do the kind of organizing work that’s needed to grow the union and build member power.
Over the last month, two SEA/SEIU Local 1984 members have been working at the union as part of the member organizer program. Cindy Sanborn and Mike Derderian — both members of Chapter 54 (NH Liquor Commission) — have been meeting and talking with members all over the state in support of union initiatives. As part of the organizer program, which is funded by SEIU, Sanborn and Derderian are released from their regular work duties, instead working full-time with the local. The pair began their work by heading to an SEIU training in California that included SEIU members from across the country. The differing backgrounds of their fellow SEIU members was striking for Sanborn and Derderian.
“It was amazing and heartbreaking to hear what some of these people are going through,” Sanborn said, recounting struggles with poverty wages and immigration. “We’re kind of insulated here in New Hampshire, so it was pretty intense.”
Derderian said it was also inspiring seeing regular people making an impact in their world.
“It shows that anybody, if they have the desire and motivation, can get involved and make a difference,” he said.
Sanborn said the training included sessions to help prepare them for the work that lay ahead.
“We did a lot of work on how to talk to people and how to get people to open up to see what issues affect them,” she said. “I came home a bit more savvy with digital media. We learned to use hash tags — my kids are flipping out about that.”
The duo has been going nonstop since they returned from California.
“It’s been a whirlwind here so far,” Sanborn said. “We’re learning how to do a bunch of things. We’re doing a lot of canvassing, phone banking, outreach to members. We were able to go to the Labor Day breakfast, and it was fun being able to see Bernie Sanders speak.”
Derderian said he’s been received well by the members he’s been talking with, and is even finding positives in the interactions that don’t go as well as hoped.
“When you start talking with people who have different views, it’s interesting to open a dialogue and realize you have similarities,” he said. “That helps compromise a lot. Compromising is easier when you’re working to understand their point of view. Even the negative stuff, you can learn from it. You may even walk away with a different point of view.”
Sanborn and Derderian are only here for a few months before they go back to their regular jobs, but that hasn’t limited their goals for their time here.
“There’s so much stuff I want to do in so little time,” Sanborn said. “I want to bring more people into our union, because it’s so important. If we don’t get the right governor, it’s going to be even more important.”
Sanborn, who took part in a part-time member organizing effort several years ago to sign up part-time liquor store employees for the union, said her big picture goal is to put more power in the hands of her fellow members at the liquor stores.
“I’d really love to see a sub-unit for the master contract that just pertains to these part-timers, because they have some very different issues,” Sanborn said. But before that is even a possibility, Sanborn said she knows we need to bring more part-time members into the union and get them active for their own cause. “Part-timers get treated like dirt, and it’s not fair because they do the same work. I’ve been a part-timer and it’s my passion to get them engaged.”
Derderian, who’s the president of Chapter 54 (Sanborn is the vice president), said he’s already learned a lot of skills that he’ll be able to use going forward.
“I’m going to be able to take what I’ve learned, when I get back to my position with the state, and bring that back to strengthen Chapter 54 and make it the best it can be,” he said.