March 27, 2008: After years of apathy and neglect, members and new officers in Chicago Local 743 are working together to turn their union around.
Last year, the Local 743 president resigned and his replacement was indicted for stealing the 2004 election. In October, the membership of Local 743 elected a reform slate of officers to the union’s top spots.
“For years, members got no information from our union. No one ever talked to them. They never knew what was going on with the union,” says Yvette Gardner, a Local 743 member at Provident Hospital. “Now there’s a new sheriff in town.”
Since taking office in January, the new local leadership has brought members from across the local together for a series of educational workshops.
The workshops have covered legal rights on the job, the grievance procedure, and organizing skills—and there are more planned.
The new leadership has also created new stewards positions and recruited some of the most active members into these positions.
At Provident, Gardner became the new steward for her unit. She has scheduled a meeting with her co-workers and new president Richard Berg so that the members can discuss their problems directly with their top officer.
Even with new leadership, management hasn’t let up their harassment of members, reports John Watkins, a member at the University of Chicago Hospitals. “It’s all out war. They write people up. Fire them. Management does whatever they can get away with,” Watkins says.
“The workshop was a good step forward. I want more of my co-workers to attend. You’ve got to participate and get involved to make our union stronger.”
Years of Neglect
Weak contracts are another challenge for the new leadership. Local 743 has over 120 agreements—on average, three contracts expire each month.
Local 743 officers and members are putting together plans to build membership-based contract campaigns to help members have a voice in their contracts.
“We have years and years of mess to clean up,” Gardner says. “It just doesn’t happen overnight. We’re only three months into it—we’re going to stick with it and get results.”