After “attending” something called the Movement Makes Five Day Challenge online, I was inspired by host Pedro Adeo to create my own “challenge” and maybe generate some book sales. My idea was to make the first one free: the Building Union 3-Day Challenge to follow up with the Unrig the System Five-Day Seminar for $27 that would include my e-book, a study guide, and the video files from the first seminar.
I decided the challenge would start on a Friday night after work for an hour and a half to get everyone excited. Saturday was 11 am to 3 pm for the meat of the challenge with a summary session Sunday morning from 10 am to noon when I would announce the July challenge. I invested $50 in FB ads, dropped my poster into every progressive and labor FB group I could think of and blasted it out to every union leader I knew personally. I also announced it on LinkedIn.
Almost as soon as I posted the Facebook Live event on a page created just for the challenge, I was deluged with complaints about police unions. (George Floyd had just been killed.) Rather than rescheduling and apologizing about my tone deafness, I doubled down. I made a discussion about police unions Topic #1. Our three questions for the weekend we were asking everyone were: 1. What do unions do right? 2. What do union do wrong? And 3. How do unions adapt for the future?
At this point I had downloaded three software programs and started learning how to use them through YouTube tutorials. Bill Fletcher, Jr. agreed to be interviewed for Day One on his In These Times piece on police unions, but because of the time difference wanted to do a pre-recorded interview. I interviewed him via Zoom and edited the interview on Moviva. I was disappointed while editing the video to see how much my energy level has dropped due to my Parkinson’s, but I moved on.
It worried me when I only had about 22 who had registered on the FB page as “going.” Another 160 announced they were “interested.” I sent a personal entreaty to those 160, telling them if they were interested in attending, they needed to commit and state “going.” It worked! Soon, I had 66 going, including some I hadn’t seen on LinkedIn: the political director of the AFL-CIO and numerous leaders of union regions.
Day One dawned. I was afraid my health issues would distract from the message so I roped my wife, my former Vice President when I was president of CWA Local 9503, into co-hosting. I lined up another speaker for Day One, a gentleman I met through LinkedIn who aggregates labor news on a website called Laborlines, a labor activist named John Andrechak in Idaho. I welcomed everyone that afternoon and hit “play” on Fletcher’s interview. I was blind to Facebook Live! I couldn’t see what my audience was seeing. I texted friends who were tuning in. “You’re fine,” they assured me. To kill time until my next interview, I had written “suggestions” from a non-existent suggestion box: “Get to know the media.” “Create a speakers’ bureau.” I even threw in a couple that were meant to provoke conversation: “The union has outlived its purpose.” “Union leaders need term limits.”
Andrechak came prepared, but he read a lot. He became more animated when I diverted him to more personal issues. We ended on time after I wrote and read a summary on the day and teased the next day’s topics.
Day Two: Saturday and everyone in the neighborhood was home and on the internet. More time lags and glitches. First up was Natalie DiPinetino, a candidate for state government in Maine. Natalie and her right-hand helper, Ed, talked about how important labor’s support is even in a rural, low union density area. We read some more “suggestions.” Next, we introduced Bob Oberstein, a union arbitrator in Seattle. Our discussion was lively and informative. My third speaker my friend Lou Siegel, a labor studies teacher at Los Angeles Trade Tech College. Our discussion was about the efficacy of labor’s tools: the boycott, strikes, etc. The drop-outs and glitches weren’t obvious when I reviewed the FB Live feed. Whew!
Day Three: I started the morning with Hugh Giordano, an organizer with the United Food and Commercial Workers in New Jersey. He had run as a Green candidate the year before. We discussed labor’s cozy relationship with the Democratic Party and how organizing pot workers leads to discussions on related, societal issues. Next up was NABET/CWA Local 53 VP Joe Ayala from Burbank who talked about union power, the challenge of representing media workers in a pandemic, and his bid for mayor in Simi Valley. We started early and ended early, but it was a good experience.
I have edited the videos and have them posted at https://www.facebook.com/Building-Union-105212021216675
Once I bolster my WiFi, I’ll consider re-introducing my Unrig the System 5-Day Challenge, tackling the issues I raised in my book Capitalism Killed the Middle Class: 25 Ways the System is Rigged Against You.