On November 4th more than 100 members came together in Nashville for the 2023 Activist Day. It’s the first one we’ve had an in-person since the pandemic began and it’s one of our favorite events of the year -- a celebration of our victories and a clear-eyed look at what’s ahead of us.
We rolled out our strategic plan for how we will build power over the next 3 years. Union members and staff gave short presentations and updates about the main pillars through which we are organizing: economic, social, and political. We enforce our rights and fight for fair pay, good benefits, and dignity at work through collective bargaining and MOUs – this is our economic power. We are active in the community because we need alliances with other working people to win real, sustainable changes in our communities – this is our social power. And we engage in politics because we know politicians make decisions that impact our lives and our livelihoods – this is our political power.
Some exciting highlights from the year included 15 members finishing the 3rd cohort of the SEIU Leadership Academy, completing 10 recruitment blitzes, and recruiting 1,134 new members into the union – the largest one-year growth in our history! We had solidarity actions with workers across Tennessee at Starbucks, McKays, UT Chattanooga and elsewhere. And through the work of the Committee on Political Education (COPE) and the SEIU Tennessee State Council we elected pro-labor candidates to local offices in Memphis, Nashville, and Knoxville, plus the State House of Representatives.
Mary Kay Henry, President of the SEIU International Union surprised us with an in-person visit and inspiring keynote address. She spoke about corporate power and structural racism as the labor movement’s two biggest threats. But she fired us up by highlighting what the SEIU and other unions are doing to win, like the historic organizing by the United Auto Workers against the Big Three automakers and Kaiser Permanente healthcare workers’ successful strikes. As workers in the right-to-work South, we know the deck is stacked against us. But she reminded us “when we join together across race, we can make the impossible possible. You are a formidable force, especially for all the non-union workers in the South who want hope that they can fight for a better life. We know the union is the surest way to transform our lives and our communities and lift everyone up.”
Our final session was a racial justice workshop about our commitment to dismantling structural and anti-Black racism. Racial and economic justice are tied together; we can’t have one without the other. We discussed ways we can identify and eliminate racism within the union and how we can practice cross-racial solidarity.
In the evening was the Star Activist Dinner. Newly elected Representative Aftyn Behn gave a speech about her journey in activism and politics. She plans to introduce legislation in 2024 to eliminate the grocery tax in Tennessee by closing corporate loopholes that would make corporations pay their fair share. Representative Behn is a longtime organizer and friend to labor, so it’s no surprise that her first bill is something that would put more money back in working people’s pockets.
At the awards dinner we recognized our most dedicated members as Organizing Stars. These members each recruited at least 12 new members this year. Recruitment is the lifeblood of our union and if we don’t all help out, then we won’t have the power to win any of our campaigns.
Our 2023 Organizing Stars are: Cyrenthia Arthur, Havron Boyd, Silva Brooks, Lisa Bubert, Donna Clay, Kyle Cook, Tracy Fair, Honey Hereth, Robert Ledford, Angela Perry, DeVita McGee Pryor, Derris Warren, and Sallie Woodard. We will be doing more recruitment blitzes in 2024, so next year this list will be even longer.