Report Back from Women of Steel Leadership Development Course

Download Rachel Serbin’s Report

From Elizabeth Laux:

Once again, my heartfelt thanks to my Union Sisters and Brothers in USW LU 3657 for giving me the opportunity to expand my Union knowledge and experience. Attending the WOS Leadership Development course was an amazing happening.

I flew out on Delta Sunday, May 27 and arrived at Linden Hall about 4:30 p.m. after driving through the beautiful Pennsylvanian countryside. I’ll admit the one lane roads I encountered threw me for a loop and the one lane tunnels and bridges also made me hesitant, but I did enjoy the drive. Pennsylvania is beautiful.

I checked into my room and unpacked. About 6 p.m. I went down to the dining room for evening meal with one of the class instructors, Keli Vereb, and whoever else had arrived from class. Keli is the District 10 Women of Steel Coordinator out of the McKeesport, PA office. It was very casual meal and a few of the other women from District 10 Locals had arrived. After dinner we assembled in the conference room situated above the dining room. This is where we would have all our sessions for the class.

Keli went over what she and Emily Jefferson would cover in class. Emily works at Five Gateway Center in the Women of Steel Department. Keli also took care of a few housekeeping items and gave us her contact information. She then dismissed us for the evening.

Monday morning we met in the conference room at 9 a.m. after breakfast. There were 15 women from about 7 locals. Rachel Serbin and I were the two LU 3657 members from the International. The remaining women were members from Locals represented by USW in District 10. It was amazing; I felt an instant affinity with everyone in that room.

In the morning we had Pair Interviews. The women each paired up and interviewed one another, asking what their name is, and what type of employee they are, what are their interests outside of work, what their involvement in the Union is, and how many years involved in the Union. I had the pleasure of interviewing Rachel Serbin and Kim Provins (there were an odd number of women in the class). Kim is a full-time clerical for a local in District 10. I formally introduced Rachel Serbin to the class; she is an administrative assistant in the District 10 office and works for Bobby “Mac” McAuliffe. She’s been with the Steelworkers for 20 years.

Monday morning we also went over the History of Women. We did some brainstorming on the roles of women in the Union and discussed what other major local Union organizations are doing to advance women. We also discussed the best methods to use in getting women more involved in the Women of Steel in the USW.

Monday afternoon Amy Conahan came to speak to the class about Fair Trade. She is the State Coordinator for the Pennsylvania Fair Trade Coalition. Amy spoke of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) and the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) and the impact that has had on US jobs and the economy.

After Amy, Bobby Mac spoke to us, and then he spoke with us. He asked each of us to introduce ourselves. His intended speech turned into a round table discussion which lasted more than an hour. He spoke about Worker’s Memorial Day and from there the conversation grew. He then gave out his contact information saying that if anyone had a question or a problem they shouldn’t hesitate to call him.

After Bobby Mac left, Keli and Emily went over the structure of the International. They encouraged all of us to know who-is-who in the structure and how best to utilize it. They spoke about leadership and how it can be innate, but it can also be learned. With experience, I believe, comes confidence.

At the end of the first day’s session Keli asked for two reporters for that day. The reporters would speak to all the individuals in the class and get feedback on the course. They would ask for opinions; if things were going good, bad or if there were any suggestions. The first day’s reporters were Rachel Serbin and me. It actually turned into a little playful competition and most of the class had more than one opportunity to speak their minds.

Tuesday we met at 8:30 a.m. instead of 9 a.m. because of the time used to have a discussion with Bobby Mac. Rachel and I gave our report and then the class broke into three groups to discuss leadership roles we’ve played in our lives and how we each of us ended up in those circumstances and how we handled the situation. One of the members of each group then presented a condensed version of that group’s discussion.

Chris Chapman from the District 10 Civil Rights department came to speak to the class Tuesday morning. His overall message is that we must stand up for each other and not against one another; this applies both in work and in life situations to make living better.

In the afternoon, we did a group activity concerning hazards in the workplace. The class split into groups and either chose one person from the group or all members in the group mapped the hazards that occur in her/their workplace on a piece of easel pad paper. Once that was complete, the paper was displayed on the wall and the group discussed the issues they came up with.

There were many hazards, mostly chemical and biological, but also physical; even in an office-type setting where cleaning supplies are used, and sometimes pipes burst. One of the more interesting Hazard Maps was from an employee of Merck Pharmaceuticals which houses some animals for testing in certain buildings on their facility campus.

As the second day came to a close two more reporters volunteered, and the class was informed everyone would have to perform an “impromptu” speech Wednesday morning. The speech was to be anywhere between 3 and 5 minutes long and based on anything the student felt comfortable speaking about. The purpose of the speech was to get the students accustomed to speaking publicly and being comfortable about it. Of course, most were nervous about this surprise saying so when they spoke to the reporters of the day.

Tuesday evening a group of the students met at the Linden Mansion and were given a tour of Sarah Cochran’s home by Keli Vereb. Mrs. Cochran commissioned the 35-room mansion to be built in 1913 in the fashion of an English country estate and even includes a full body water-massage shower in her suite of rooms, and a bowling alley in the basement. She was definitely ahead of her time.

Wednesday morning was speech day. There were a variety of speeches on everything from a catch and release feline neutering program at one of the mills a woman worked at, to a speech on horseback riding. I did my speech on palmistry; something I studied when I was a younger woman.

Many students who were initially nervous about their speeches, wondering how the heck they were going to come up with a three-minute speech, surprised themselves. The shortest speech was 4 minutes long. The longest speech was ten minutes. No speech was written out and there were few notes and some used diagrams to point out certain aspects to the audience. To me, the point of this activity was to prove that if you are comfortable about your subject, you should have no problem speaking and giving an informational presentation.

In the afternoon on Wednesday Allan McDougall and Duronda Pope of the USW Emergency Response Team (ERT) Department came to speak regarding workplace fatalities and catastrophic injuries. The members of the ERT can stay with the victim and their family, or if there is a fatality, with the family members left behind, up to several months helping them through different scenarios.

Allan and Duronda said they are always looking for new people to get involved in ERT training because the team members of the ERT encounter such delicate situations. Eventually team members require post-traumatic stress training and must be cycled out of the program. It was an eye-opening presentation and I deeply respect anyone who is a part of the USW ERT.

In the afternoon on Wednesday we watched the movie 2005 “North Country” with Charlize Theron, Frances McDormand, and Woody Harrelson. It was a difficult movie to watch. There are many injustices in this world and one of them was the fact that it took 25 years for the main character in the movie to win her battle.

At the end of the day on Wednesday I said my good-byes. We all gathered for a cookout along with the Leadership Development Class, Level 3. I was flying out Thursday and wouldn’t be able to make Thursday’s class session. I was sad that I would miss the presentations on racial discrimination and diversity, and the speaker from the USW Rapid Response Department.

The information and the experience I gained from this development course is very important and something I will carry with me. I am thankful for this opportunity and I will not only share the information I have acquired, but I hope to continually build on it in the future.

Elizabeth Laux – USW LU 3657

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