SPARK! Conference Ignites Union Members & Activists Across TN!

SEIU Local 205 members travelled from Memphis, Chattanooga, and East Tennessee to gather in Nashville for SPARK! – the union’s annual leadership training conference.

Union members, along with local community partners and officials from the international union gathered for a day of education, activism, and leadership training to help build the labor movement in Tennessee and fight for the middle class.

After a video featuring some of the Local’s highlights for 2015, there were some opening remarks by local president Doug Collier as he welcomed several visitors from out of state, including SEIU international vice-president, Eileen Kirlin. Eileen spoke about the rampant income inequality that is decimating the middle class in America and revealed SEIU’s bold plan to address it in a presentation called “Strategic Framework for the Future: A 21st Century Blueprint”.

Eileen Kirlin, executive vice-president of SEIU, presents at SPARK 2015 in Nashville.

Eileen Kirlin, executive vice-president of SEIU, presents at SPARK 2015 in Nashville.

After lunch, attendees broke out into two workshops. One, called the “Nitro” workshop, was led by a discussion by chief stewards Antonio McKissack (Metro Government) and Nat King Cole (MDHA) about the wave of corporate welfare being handed out to wealthy corporations in Nashville and across the state and the impact that could have on quality public services that citizens rely on. Also in Nitro, we heard a touching story from a home care worker named Mary, who struggles to provide for her own family because of low wages in Tennessee. These perspectives “sparked” those in attendance to remember SEIU’s core values of fighting for economic justice, dignity, and empowerment for all workers.

Antonio McKissack (Metro Water Services) presents at SPARK 2015.

Antonio McKissack (Metro Water Services) presents at SPARK 2015.

Meanwhile, in the “TNT” workshop, members were “sparked” into helping build the labor movement by honing their listening and organizing skills. Thanks to an inspiring presentation by Mike Hodge of the NOAH community organization, members paired off into teams and practiced how to talk to their co-workers about the purpose and value of joining the union. This year, SPARK! introduced the concept of using union members as our workshop facilitators, rather than relying on union staff or professional organizers. The results were spectacular as the active listening and roleplaying sessions were more realistic and productive than ever and members committed to using these new skills to build union membership in their workplaces.

Workshop facilitators debrief after a "TNT" session at SPARK 2015.

Workshop facilitators debrief after a “TNT” session at SPARK 2015.

Between sessions, members enjoyed visits to the SEIU photo booth and telling stories about what they liked about their jobs and why they joined the union. Recharged by a great lunch, a popcorn snack, and a bag full of awesome purple SEIU swag, members closed out the SPARK! Conference energized and ready to ignite change across the great state of Tennessee!

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