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Back to Section One | Back to Arts & Entertainment
posted Friday, October 28, 2011 - Volume 39 Issue 43
'Whatever it takes, we're there for you.'
UFCW 21 ENDORSES MARRIAGE EQUALITY
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'Whatever it takes, we're there for you.'
UFCW 21 ENDORSES MARRIAGE EQUALITY

by Mike Andrew - SGN Staff Writer

On October 20, United Food and Commercial Workers Local 21, the state's largest private-sector union, endorsed marriage equality and promised its 'strong support' for the marriage equality bill expected to be introduced in the state legislature next year.

With 38,000 members and an aggressive political program, the union could be a key ally in passing the bill.

SGN talked recently with two representatives of UFCW 21 about what their union can bring to the fight for marriage rights in Washington.

Scott Shiflett is a meatcutter at Safeway and a member of UFCW 21's Executive Board. Joe Mizrahi is UFCW 21's political action coordinator.

As the staffer directly responsible for the union's political program, Mizrahi will be on the front lines of the campaign to pass any marriage bill.

'Well,' Mizrahi told SGN, 'I would say the primary focus is to get our members to the front lines&'

'He's the general,' Shiflett interjected. 'Our members will be on the front lines.'

'To get them to take the initiative and call their legislators to support the bill,' Mizrahi continued.

'We're going to advocate very strongly for it. We want to be a good coalition partner with ERW - which is the main organization pushing it forward - and with all our partners.'

UFCW 21 committed significant resources to the campaign to approve Referendum 71, including dedicated staff time and its state-of-the-art phone-banking facilities. Asked if the union would make a similar commitment to a marriage bill, Mizrahi replied that it would.

'On Referendum 71, that was what was asked of us,' Mizrahi said, 'what was required by the campaign. We're committed to this and we'll do whatever it takes.'

'When Dave [Schmitz], our president, asked us to vote on this it was like a no-brainer,' Shiflett added. 'It's a civil rights thing. It was like 'Why hasn't this happened already?'

'Whatever it takes, we're there for you,' he concluded.

The union plans to do outreach to its 38,000 members to prepare them to support the legalization when it is introduced.

'We'll do internal education with our members,' Shiflett told SGN. 'We can send out bulletins. We can send out flyers. Whether it's Macy's or whether it's our grocery stores - we're out there to educate our members.'

Mizrahi noted that UFCW 21's last grocery contract campaign, which came to a successful conclusion last November, resulted in a huge increase in the number of active shop stewards working with union leadership. It can be a significant advantage in a political campaign.

'The number of stewards more than doubled during the contract campaign,' Mizrahi said. 'Often the best ambassador is someone you know. Someone with credibility in the store. That's why stewards are important.'

'You see more of them, so you trust them, where maybe you'd be a little suspicious of someone from outside,' Shiflett added.

Neither man saw any significant opposition to marriage equality within their union.

'I'm sure there'll be a few members who'll scoff at this,' Shiflett said, 'but I think almost all of them will be there.'

'One thing that impresses me about our executive board: there's a certain degree of following our members, but there's also a sense of leading,' Mizrahi added. 'This passed very strongly at our executive board and it's the right thing to do.'

Mizrahi would not speculate about a possible initiative campaign to overturn a new marriage law if it passes the legislature, much like the Referendum 71 initiative aimed at overturning the state's domestic partnership law.

'Where we're at now - we're focused on the [legislative] session,' he said. 'Where the process will end up is an open question.'

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'Whatever it takes, we're there for you.'
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