More than twenty UE Local 170 members and guests attended the local’s first annual political action conference in Charleston on November 17 and 18. The UE members sharpened their political action skills in two workshops on the first day of the conference and then put their skills to work at the Capitol the next day in meetings with West Virginia legislators.
 
The conference was timed to coincide with the West Virginia Legislature’s November interim meetings. Although the local has regular rank-and-file members’ lobby days during the monthly interim meetings throughout the year, the local wanted to get better prepared for the start of the legislature’s regular session, which begins in early January 2014.
 
“We wanted to educate the legislators on our legislative priorities, and to ask for their support before the regular session started,” said Chris Wolford, UE Local 170 vice president, who is responsible for coordinating the local’s political action work. “We also wanted to better educate our members and get them more active and involved in this work. If we are going to be successful, we have to do this work year round.”
 
On the first day of the conference, there were two workshops. UE Political Action Director Chris Townsend conducted the first workshop on “How UE-style independent political action can build power for West Virginia public workers.” Townsend also gave a brief political action update. Former West Virginia Delegate Bobbie Hatfield conducted the second workshop on “How a bill becomes law.” Hatfield, who was a strong supporter of UE Local 170 during her time in the legislature, emphasized the importance of membership advocacy in helping advance a bill in the legislature.
 
The local prepared packets for its members which contained copies of three bills that the local supported in the last legislative session and which will be carried over into the upcoming session; a West Virginia legislative directory, which listed all of the WV legislators, their contact info, and their office locations; and a UE Local 170 Legislative Priorities 2013 – 2014 questionnaire, which had six questions, which the members asked each legislator to answer. The questions ranged from support for a pay raise for state workers to collective bargaining rights for state workers. You can download a copy of the questionnaire here.
 
The local intends to use the questionnaire in meetings with legislators during the upcoming months and then publish the results for its members before the next elections.
 
During the second day of the conference, the UE members met with dozens of legislators, including Senate President Jeffrey Kessler and House Majority Whip Mike Caputo, who agreed to sponsor one of the local’s bills on seniority rights for state workers on job bidding and transfers.
 
“All of our chapter’s members worked well together as a team during our meetings with our legislators,” said Sandra Baker, UE Local 170 Chapter 6 recording secretary. “Everyone had an opportunity to speak and ask questions.” Baker said that this was the first time that she attended a political action event, but it won’t be her last. “I really learned a lot,” she said.
 
In order to help build attendance for the conference, the local reached out to the leaders of its newly reorganized chapters. Each chapter was asked to send at least two members to the conference. Most chapters sent more than two members.
 
“Our chapters played a key role in turning out our members to attend our conference,” said Donna Morgan, UE Local 170 president. “It’s going to take political action by our members to improve their wages and working conditions. Our union is a member-run union. And it’s going to take our members organizing at the grass roots in order for us to be successful.”
 

UE Local 170 has plans for two more political action events in the coming months. The local’s next rank-and-file members’ lobby day will be on January 20 – Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, which most state workers have off; and the local’s annual Presidents’ Day rally at the Capitol on February 17.