Each week, GoLocal shines the spotlight on one individual who is making an impact on Rhode Island.
This week, GoLocal sat down with Teamsters organizer Nick Williams to talk about his current and future plans, in light of the opposition slate United Action taking the recent Local 251 elections.
Tell us about how you came become involved in the United Action movement here with the Teamsters.
It all started for me when I began working at my first Teamster job at Rhode Island Hospital 8 years ago. I was hired to work at the Lifespan Distribution Center, which was basically Lifespans warehouse that held all non-pharmaceutical supplies for the Hospital units. We had a supervisor there that was out of his depth. He was constantly breaking the contract, and we were constantly filing grievances. He was fired, and replaced by our Teamster Business Agent's Brother. Right then I knew something was really, really wrong with our union. They were obviously in bed with management. I tried to make an argument with HR and the Department Of Labor that there was a serious conflict of interest with our new Supervisor. They agreed, but said it was not illegal, so there was nothing they could do. Out of frustration, I went home and I googled "Teamsters Local 251 SUCKS." One of the entries that popped up, ironically was www.251unitedaction.org. It was a site run by a couple of guys that worked at UPS, which was another company that was contracted with Local 251. I reached out to them, met them for some coffee, and the rest is history.
What are the three biggest issues facing the Teamsters, either locally, nationally, or both?
I think the biggest problem facing the teamsters locally has been a poorly run Local. The political power of Teamsters local 251 has been poorly wielded for so long, that endorsements are just given away and politicians are not being held accountable to their promises to the working class here in Rhode Island and in Mass. For instance, Teamsters local 251 is the bargaining entity for the 60 hard working Teamsters at the Fall River Department of Public Works, which is run by the City of Fall River. Recently, there was a heated Mayoral race, and the incumbent sought the Teamster endorsement. Well, the DPW workers have been working without a contract for several months leading up to the Mayoral race, and you would think the Leadership of 251 would use the leverage of an election to finally strike a deal in exchange for the endorsement. Nope. The incumbent was re-elected and the 60 Teamsters in Fall River are still without a contract, or uniforms, or the necessary safety gear. This is unacceptable, irresponsible, and one of the many reasons we NEEDED to make this change in local 251.
Nationally, our biggest problem is our image, and the inability of our National Leaders to emphasize the role of organized labor as it relates to rebuilding the Middle Class. There is plenty of information out there that clearly shows the correlation between shrinking Union membership, and the shrinking middle class. Even Business Insider recently published an article about how we need labor unions more now than ever. But before we can grow, we need strong leaders at the national level with the ability to nurture that growth and take us into the future. Currently, in my opinion, we do not have that leadership in place. But the essence of Democracy is not lost on our members, and I am hopeful that we will make the necessary changes at the national level in 2016.
Take us through a day in your life.
Well, since the election, my focus has shifted from list building, organizing members, reaching out to other companies in the Local 251 umbrella, and generally running our campaign to reaching out to other local labor leaders, and preparing our slate for the huge transition we are about to undertake. In a normal (I use that word LOOSELY..there is nothing normal about my days lately) day, I spend most of it conversing with our secretary-treasurer elect and other national contacts that I have made from my position as a Steering Committee member, and newly elected co-chair of a group called Teamsters for a Democratic Union (TDU) trying to ensure as smooth of a transition as possible.
TDU is in contact with many leaders of the Teamsters, and their advice and counsel is going to be one of our greatest assets moving forward. I also still have to work third shift at Rhode Island Hospital during the lame duck months, make time to play with my amazing 10 year old son, Jacob, 4 year old daughter, Sophia, and my newest 9 month old edition, Riley, as well as try and get a few relaxing minutes with my beautiful wife, Audra, who has been extremely supportive throughout all of this. I couldn't have done it without her full support, she is awesome!
What are the challenges you face in continuing to be successful, now that you won the election?
Going forward, we have to remember where we came from. We cannot lose touch with the members, after all, the Union is nothing without the members. We have to remember the things that were wrong, and make sure we fix them. We want to be sure our members are educated about their contract, labor laws, and other entities that effect their employment. We are of the opinion that an educated and involved membership creates power within our union. We have a plan to execute all of these goals, from a Local 251 university, to mandatory steward elections, to contract action committees. Member involvement is our number one goal going forward.
Tell us something nobody knows about you.
I learned how to apply and fill gel-tip and acrylic nails when I was single as a way to meet women. I highly suggest this to any single guys out there! You'd be surprised!
Abraham Lincoln. He led us through a civil war that could have torn this great country apart at the seams, was able to unite the country shortly afterward, and put an end to Slavery with the Emancipation Proclamation. All in just over 4 years!
Marchetti's in Cranston. Best lobster roll in New England!
Best elected official in RI right now:
Mayor Angel Tavares. His no-nonsense, honest approach to the difficulties facing the City of Providence during his term as Mayor has been refreshing.
If you could have dinner with anyone in the world today, who would it be?
Bob Dylan. I'm a HUGE fan of his music/poetry.