A Thank You Speech From Jose Zamarripa

Thank you for inviting the Laborers’ International Union of North America and Local 681 to participate in this important gathering.

I would also like to thank The AFL-CIO, and the Neighborhood Founding Group. And a special thanks to the Chicago Workers Collaborative group, and the Northern Illinois Jobs with Justice.

My name is Jose Zamarripa Jr.  I’m the Business Manager and Secretary-Treasurer of Laborers’ Local 681. I’m a second generation Laborer in my family. I was very fortunate to work with Richard Sherman and Randy Dalton, leaders that believed, trusted and encorauraged me as Latino and had the vision to promote advancement within our local.

The following has been my Journey with Local 681:

  • In 2002 – I started as an Organizer.
  • Later that year, I was Elected as a Delegate to the District Council
  • In 2004 – I was Promoted to Vice-President than elected in 2005
  • In 2007 – I was Appointed, then Elected as Secretary-Treasurer in 2008
  • Being the Secretary-Treasurer, gave me the “Honor” of being the first Hispanic in the Chicago & Vicinity Laborers’ District Council to hold this position.
  • In 2010 – I was Appointed then Elected as Business Manager/Secretary-Treasurer
  • Again, being the Business Manager/Secretary-Treasurer, gave me the “Honor” of being the first Hispanic in the Chicago & Vicinity Laborers’ District Council to hold BOTH positions.
  • Currently, I am the first and only Hispanic to hold the Business Manager’s position in the Chicago & Vicinity Laborers’ District Council.

 

The biggest challenges that I’ve faced in a personal level have been negotiating contracts with today’s economy because all the employers want is, to cut, cut and cut! It makes me proud to have members THANK me for always having their best interest at heart.  I am motivated to continue negotiating better contracts for our members. The other very important challenge is how to move forward a workers agenda? In today economy and political reality which does not give workers an opportunity to move up and to stay in the middle class. Now day’s union’s only strategies it is not enough anymore, we need to find ways to work with other sectors of the community to achieve a real workers agenda.

 

Local 681’s last organizing campaign was with ATMI Precast Co; was very successful and Unique. Because, ATMI Precast Company workers approached and reached out to us in Local 681 looking for representation. The demographics at ATMI are 98% Hispanic, 2% Caucasian (White) and is 100% male.

Of course I felt very Honored and Humbled by their requests.

 

ATMI’s workers situation was very special, the reason being; they were “LOCKED OUT” for 3 weeks by their employer, starting the week of Thanks Giving, that was because, they were unable to reach a Contract Agreement with another Trade that was involved. Due to this situation Local 681 couldn’t get involved, so we reached out to The CWC and The NIJWJ groups to provide support to the ATMI workers to stay together.

 

The following is what CWC and NIJwJ did for the Workers:

  • They held protest marches in front of the factory with the workers,
  • They held protest marches in front of the owner’s home and throughout the community
  • They held food drives
  • They reached out to All the Churches in the community for any kind of assistance to the workers
  • Provided leadership that was key in keeping the workers united

 

As all of this was happening, the workers were very humbled by the support they were receiving from the community activist groups.

 

As ATMI Precast tried to hire more Temporary workers to fill in the positions of the Full-Time employees who were LOCKED OUT, Needless to say, this PLAN backfired on the company because the CWC and NIJwJ confronted the Staffing Agency; with letters and protest marches telling the Staffing Agency to stay out of this Labor dispute! All this action made ATMI realize that if it continued to use temp labor it will face mounting community pressure from CWC and NIJwJ and other community groups.  On December 14, 2011 ATMI Precast allowed the workers to return to work.

 

January 9, 2012 Local 681 with the assistance of GROC Organizers (Juan Munoz, and Fernando Ruiz) filed a Petition for Representation at the National Labor Relation Board, to have an election as soon as possible. This of course was met with Resistance from ATMI Precast.

 

Immediately following, ATMI Precast started having Anti-Union group meetings with the employees, trying to discourage them of voting for the Union. The company recognized this was not working in their favor, so they started having one on one meeting with their employees, telling them, that they did not need a union.  That they were a “Big Happy family” and they should be able to work out the differences themselves without a third party intervening in their day to day operations.

 

Soon thereafter, ATMI decided to terminate four of our Strongest Union supporters (Enrique Yanez, Juan Ferrer, Jose Oropeza, and Jose Meraz) to deliver a message to the rest of the workers of what would happen to them if they continue to support the Union.

 

Local 681 took immediate action and filed unfair labor practices charges against ATMI, and this was more motivation for the workers, to continue their quest to win their battle and get the representation they wanted from Local 681.

 

At the same time Local 681 was holding meetings with all of the workers, about every other week, to inform the future members of every step of the process before the NLRB election on February 17, 2012.

 

On February 17, 2012 the NLRB election was held at the ATMI Precast plant.  Local 681 brought the 4 terminated employees to vote at the election to show the rest of the workers that they were still with us in this long battle.

The results were counted by the NLRB Agent in front of ATMI Precast Management and their Attorney, as well Local 681 Representatives.  As the YES votes were increasing tremendously, you can say the expressions on the faces of the ATMI Management Team was PRICELESS. The final tally was 78 yes for the Union, 9 against.

 

The final vote count by the workers, sent a Strong message to ATMI that the workers were united and wanted to be represented by Local 681, and it would not be “Business as usual.”

 

Soon thereafter, Juan Munoz, Fernando Ruiz, Attorney Robert Block and myself held a meeting with the workers to get a contract proposal ready. At this meeting, we chose our negotiation committee –  2 workers were selected (Roque Caballero, and Federico Lopez), Fernando Ruiz, Attorney Robert Bloch, and myself.

After having 8 long contract negotiation meetings an agreement was reached and then ratified on June 15 2012.

 

This contract empowered, guaranteed and provided our new members from ATMI Precast to have “Just Cause Language,” meaning the Company has to have a valid reason for disciplinary and termination actions. Grievance procedure, No Strike and Lockout Language, Representation for appointed Union Steward at all times. In addition;

  1. We were able to reduce tremendously the out of pocket cost on Health Insurance Premiums,
  2. Seniority rights, Recall rights for 2 years when laid off, and guarantee yearly salary increases.
  3. And that NO temporary employees are allowed to work, when Full-Time employees are Laid-Off
  4. Local 681 was able to get Enrique Yanez (backpay), and Juan Ferrer their jobs back with no loss of seniority or contractual rights!
  5. Also for Jose Oropeza and Jose Meraz, the local decided to take this matter to arbitration

 

I want to mentioned that although our Union has come a long way in terms of promoting Latino and other minorities to positions of leadership, we are not done becoming a better union, LIUNA promotes all workers rights to better employment. In other areas of the country LIUNA has worked to promote the hiring of more African American and women in construction jobs, as it is the case in New Jersey where contract language calls for up to 30% of new hires should come from those communities where the work is being done which in many areas it means that the work force is mainly African American.

 

I am very proud to be the first Latino business manager of the Chicago District Council of Laborers’. I remain committed to support the organizing of workers of all back-grounds.

 

In closing, I would like to attribute the success of this contract to the invaluable help   from our Attorney Robert Bloch, Leone Bicchieri and Tim Bell from CWC, Mary Shesgreen from NIJWJ organizations, as well as the LIUNA GROC Organizers Team, especially Juan Munoz, and Fernando Ruiz without any of them, this wouldn’t have been possible. And to the vision that guide us to work together with community allies that just a few years ago we did not even imagine working with.

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