New ways for organizers to lead

Coral del Mar Murphy-Marcos

For Erik Ramos, packing house representative at UFCW 770 for grocery and drug store workers, the Labor Center Lead Organizer Training session came right on time. As contract negotiations loom for the 2,500-member unit at Krogers, Ramos is determined to activate a minimum of 250 workers. Equipped with the advanced skills acquired during the training, he aims to significantly amplify the impact of his local’s initiatives.

With negotiations set to start this year, Ramos recognizes the urgency to refine his leadership approach. Whether through supporting, coaching, delegating, or directing union members, he is determined to foster a shift that ensures a fair contract is secured before the current one expires in June.

“It all depends on where the team is at. I could help them, coach them, because they’re already the best at what they do,” Ramos said, elaborating about the lessons he learned on developing frontline leaders. 

The latest Labor Center Lead Organizer Training took place in mid-November, as 19 organizers got together to strengthen their organizing skills and learn to cultivate new leaders within their organizations. The frontline leaders from teacher, grocery, and flight attendant unions, and Black, Latino, and Filipino worker centers, among others, learned to adapt different leadership approaches to different circumstances.

The approach is helping unions make concrete gains. Laura Hundt, Lead Labor Relations Specialist from the Minnesota Nurses Association, has in recent years helped negotiate two contracts that won members higher wages and better working conditions after facing excessive burnout. A graduate of the Lead Organizer Training, Hundt focused on identifying and empowering leaders within her union. She used concepts from the training to educate organizers to apply their everyday experiences to build their leadership skills. 

“It makes building and taking on the boss a transformational experience rather than a transactional experience,” Hundt said.  

Labor Center Leadership Development Director Danielle Mahones recognized the rigorous work of helping frontline leaders feel like they can take on significant responsibility in their campaigns. 

“We create an intentional space for lead organizers to learn and grow together across unions and worker centers,” Mahones said. “Participants leave with new ways to approach the work and newfound confidence to lead.” 

Kristie Rivera, local president for the Association of Flight Attendants, which represents about 4,000 United Airlines flight attendants based in San Francisco, participated in the November training and said the sessions were “more than just lead organizing.” 

“As a leader, I know many of us always feel that we aren’t quite good enough, learned enough, skilled enough,” Rivera said. “The camaraderie and the experiences that are shared really resonate. And you can take back and implement those things within your own leadership style network.” 

Sharita Bryant, an organizer at the American Federation of Teachers-Maryland, said she immediately started using what she learned. 

“I had a sit-down with my director to go over the leadership development sheets,” Bryant said. “I created one for each person on my team to discuss where certain individuals should go as far as their growth is concerned.” 

Organizers were also trained on how to communicate tasks, expectations, and support in a way that builds their coworker’s ability.

Aura Aguilar with North Bay Jobs with Justice appreciated the training curriculum’s flexibility. 

“You can really make it your own,” Aguilar said. “You can add to it. You can remove the things that don’t work for you.”