Organizing labor

At Work

Poor wages, benefits create union members

Working

January 31, 2007|By Hanah Cho | Hanah Cho,Sun Reporter

Brian Nesbit

Organizer

United Food and Commercial Workers International Union, Local 27, Towson

Salary --$83,500 a year

Age --36

Years on the job --Nine

How he got started --Nesbit became a UFCW member in 1986 when he started working at Safeway in Greenbelt as a sophomore in high school.

He continued working there after graduating. During his employment, he got more involved in union activities and became a shop steward.

In 1998, he was offered a staff position as an organizer in Local 27, which covers most of Maryland, including the Eastern Shore, and western and northern counties, and Delaware.

Typical day --Nesbit says he spends most of his time on the road.

His job focuses on ways to sign up nonunion workers, particularly in the grocery retail sector, but the union is not limited to one particular industry. During organizing campaigns, Nesbit holds meetings, conducts home visits and hands out literature to build support.

In most cases, a nonunion worker contacts Nesbit or the union about issues or problems in the workplace.

He also organizes rallies to build membership and community support. In September, he completed a successful drive to unionize more than 200 employees of Delaware's Family Court.

Nesbit also is the local coordinator for WakeUpWalMart.com, a UFCW-financed campaign critical of the world's largest retailer.

Convincing workers that unions still matter --Nesbit says he often hears that "unions have outlived their necessity." Union membership in the U.S. has steadily declined over the past decade, while some employers, such as Wal-Mart, fight to keep their work forces nonunion.

But Nesbit says unions are more important than ever because employees are faced with stagnant wages, increasing health care costs and tougher working conditions.

The good --"My ability to have a positive impact on a person's life, not just their work life but in life in general. To me, that's a powerful thing."

The bad --Sometimes, the long hours and the travel. During his most recent organizing drive in Delaware, he spent six months at a hotel in Rehoboth Beach. As a result, he missed spending time with his children and attending family events.

Philosophy on the job --Keep trying. When he first started organizing, he got a lot of rejection and hostility. "It took me a while to get a tough skin."

hanah.cho@baltsun.com

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