Meet Our Shop Steward: Marcela Dinoso

Marcela Dinoso is a Vocational Rehabilitation Counselor at the Division of Vocational Rehabilitation in Hackensack. She assists people with disabilities who are seeking re-entry into the workforce by connecting them with jobs that meet their needs.

Tell us about your work. What do you do? 

[MD] – As a Vocational Rehabilitation Counselor, I provide vocational counseling for people with various disabilities from learning, physical, mental, substance abuse, as well as deaf and hard of hearing. I assess an individual’s readiness to return to the workforce and find them a viable vocational goal that is suitable for them that is not going to exacerbate their disability.

How long have you been a Shop Steward? 

[MD] – I started in 2017.

What kind of issues do you and your coworkers face on the job? How has being in a union helped to work through them?

[MD] – Dealing with issues through management to gain clarification. Constant monitoring of our facility to ensure a safe work environment for our brothers and sisters. Rallying the rank and file to become more involved in union activities. Providing support during the pandemic and utilizing the technology to keep union members up to date every step of the way.

How do you think being in a union improves working conditions for workers?

[MD] – Unions protect our rights, and that’s very important because some jobs that have not been unionized, workers get taken advantage of, and they treat you as disposable. With a union you are being supported, you have job security. We are stronger as a whole.

What have you learned from your time as a Shop Steward?

[MD] – Advocating for our brothers and sisters, letting them know that we are there for them that their fight is our fight. Gathering information and finding all the facts before jumping into any conclusion and making sure that we tell our brothers and sisters that we got each other’s back and give them our full honesty and sincerity.

Do you have any tips or advice for union members who may be considering becoming a Shop Steward? 

[MD] – Earn your colleagues’ trust and you will be golden. It’s very rewarding to successfully resolve grievances.

Meet Our Shop Steward: Christine Bradshaw

Christine Bradshaw is a CWA Local 1037 Shop Steward and Assistant Head Usher at The NJ Performing Arts Center (NJPAC) in Newark. An admirer of the arts, Christine has been a part of NJPAC since 1996 when she started out as a volunteer, and a 1037 Shop Steward since negotiating our first contract in 2007.

Tell us about your work. What do you do?

[CB] – I am an Assistant Head Usher, and my job is to supervise the ushers on my tier. In our work environment, we deal with many patrons of all sorts of demeanors and language barriers at NJPAC. Our job is to greet theatre goers and our co-workers in a pleasant manner, not knowing what kind of day they have had, not knowing if they had traffic or parking issues before entering the building. We must be ready and anticipate to not to add to an already bad day. 

What kind of challenges did you and your colleagues face in the past prior to unionizing, and what challenges do you face today?

[CB] – I started off as a volunteer, but once I became a paid usher the criteria escalated and the conditions in the workplace became more and more demanding. The pay reviews were horrible, for example. The NJPAC organization would share excellent letters from patrons applauding the ushers on how well they were treated and how we made them feel so welcomed, and yet we still wouldn’t get a better review. Reviews generated an increase of no more than twenty-five cents every year. Today, honestly, our challenges are very few. Being in a unionized workplace is a huge factor. Negotiations between our Union and the NJPAC organization has met us on all our issues and concerns.

What have you learned from your time as a Shop Steward?

[CB] – I’m grateful to the negotiating committee past and present: Melanie Daniels, Cynthia Green, Johnnie Paige, Jackie Smith, Carol Webb, George Mero, and myself. Knowing up front neither of us had any experience in this field, we worked together diligently with ushers to build a fair contract that met our concerns on the job.   

What does ‘Solidarity’ mean to you?

[CB] – To me, solidarity means unity to be able to work out our issues and concerns for the best benefits.

What has been your favorite performance?

[CB] – Annie was my best and longest running performance at NJPAC. “The sun will come out tomorrow…” was stuck in our heads for months.

The Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire and the Importance of Workplace Safety

On March 25, 1911, a fire broke out at the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory in Manhattan killing 146 garment workers. The workers—most of them young, immigrant women in their teens and early twenties—were unable to escape due to locked doors and a lack of workplace safety precautions in the factory. (Exit doors were regularly locked to prevent workers from taking breaks, and there were no fire alarms to notify the workers.)

Thousands of people watched in helpless horror as the blaze absorbed the building, and workers desperate to escape the fire, jumped from the 9th floor onto their deaths. The fire galvanized people like Frances Perkins, an eyewitness who would later become the U.S. Secretary of Labor, to push for political reform.

The state of New York created the Factory Investigating Commission which inspected hundreds of factories for hazards. The findings led to sixty new labor laws including better building access, fire extinguishers, automatic sprinklers, and more. New legislation passed to shorten the workweek and improved the eating and restroom facilities for workers. Perkins would later guide Franklin D. Roosevelt to pass the New Deal which included landmark labor rights such as the 40-hour work week, minimum wage, and the right to unionize.

Seared on my mind as well as my heart—a never-to-be-forgotten reminder of why I had to spend my life fighting conditions that could permit such a tragedy.

Frances Perkins on the aftermath of the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire

The Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire was a tragedy, but not uncommon in those days. About 100 workers died on the job everyday due to dangerous working conditions and a lack of government regulation that left workers vulnerable to the decisions of employers. Workers unionized by the thousands to demand change. The International Ladies Garment Workers Union (ILGWU) coordinated mass strikes, defied brutal beatings by police, all for the bare minimum of dignity at the workplace.

“The life of men and women is so cheap, and property is so sacred. There are so many of us for one job it matters little if 146 of us are burned to death… I know from my experience it is up to the working people to save themselves. The only way they can save themselves is by a strong working-class movement.”

Rose Schneiderman, a union activist, speaking on the need for union organizing at the memorial for the victims of the fire.

Organized workers led the demand for change at the workplace. Decades after the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire, unions pushed for the passage of the Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970 and the creation of the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) which enforces a safety standard employers must abide by.

Though accidents and fatalities on the job are still a reality today, unions substantially lower the risk of workplace-related injuries. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, states that rank in the top 20 in union density have the lowest rates of workplace fatalities. Comparably, states with “right to work” laws which weaken union power have a 49% greater risk of workers dying on the job.

The labor reform that resulted from the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire is a blueprint for how union organizing and political activism work in tandem. “There’s a direct relationship between the ballot box and the bread box, and what the union fights for and wins at the bargaining table can be taken away in the legislative halls,” Walter Reuther, former UAW President. While unions lead the demand for change, it’s important to solidify these wins in the law, and then organize to continue to protect these rights. Unions continue to demand policies that protect workers and pursue safety and health protections on the job, setting the standard for workplace safety for all workers.

To find out more about safe working conditions, visit osha.gov.