The Creation of the Young Workers UHW Caucus

In 2016, my union, the Service Employees International Union – United Healthcare Workers-West (SEIU-UHW) saw that we had a gap in our leadership. At SEIU-UHW, young workers are twenty-eight percent of our union’s membership, and it is growing every day. At that time there were less than five leaders under 35 on our 300 seat executive board.

So we hosted a three-day conference for the union’s young workers – those union workers born after 1979. Over 65 union members attended, and it was the first union experience for many of them, including myself. SEIU-UHW’s young workers conference was unique in many ways. First, the young workers conference was led entirely by young workers themselves – not staff. This allowed young workers to lead for the very first time, and it also inspired the attendees to do the same. Secondly, young workers learned about the history of labor unions, and how our union has helped lead the way on fighting for strong union contracts, and healthcare justice for all. We also learned about the struggles that labor unions will be facing in these next few years, and why young workers are the right leaders to take on these challenges. For the first time, many of us realized that we were a part of something bigger.

Having young workers actively involved in their union is more important today than ever. Now at SEIU-UHW, young workers are twenty-eight percent of the union’s membership, and we have 19 leaders under 35 on our board, we’re growing. Pensions, benefits, wages, and the existence of unions are seriously being threatened, the workers who have the most at stake are young workers.

This is why we at SEIU-UHW established a young workers caucus called, the Young Workers UHW (YWUHW). Many of the original attendees of SEIU-UHW’s young workers conference now make up YWUHW’s core leadership and membership. We believe that YWUHW can serve as a vital entry point for young workers in the union allowing them to understand what the union is, and become active leaders. YWUHW gives young workers their own space to help run the union’s program.

In January, YWUHW will host a social media training for caucus members. We’ve set out to prove there are ways in which we can communicate and organize online. Each member is asked to recruit a new young worker to attend. We will be putting these new skills to use when we join millions of other activists at the Women’s March nationwide. YWUHW is also developing a weekly internet show to be shared on social media so that young workers can hear about issues important to them, and hear a new voice from their union. The show will be produced entirely by young workers and young union staff members. Later this year, we plan to host another young worker’s conference, which we aim to include young workers from other locals to participate in. Our goal is to be the entry point for young people in social activism and making sure we’re continuing to fight for rights so many before us won.

Labor may not be able to control the decisions of Congress, the Trump Administration or the Supreme Court from rolling back labor law and the rights of workers. However we, as Young Workers at SEIU-UHW are going to fight like hell to make it as hard as possible for those in power to take from working families.

Angela Tamayo is a San Jose Kaiser Permanente employee, Executive Boardmember of SEIU-UHW, and Chair of Young Workers UHW

#YWUHW on Instagram and twitter: @YoungWorkersUHW

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