by Yolanda Bejarano, Political State Coordinator for Arizona, CWA Local 7019
Letters to the Movement is a segment where we publish a message from one of your fellow CWA activists. It’s an open forum, and we encourage you all to write in and contribute a piece.
Yolanda currently recruits CWA members to phone bank and canvass for candidates who fight for workers and working families. Her goal is to educate as many members as possible on how other issues (such as climate change, and mass incarceration, for example) intersect with income inequality, stagnant wages and corporate greed. Yolanda believes education is key to gaining power and uses whatever spare time she has to help others understand that the system is broken and that it is not going to fix itself unless working people mobilize and take power.
My name is Yolanda Bejarano and I have been a member of the Communications Workers of America for twelve years. Not having a union background, I did not fully understand the power of a union until I got a job at Qwest Communications. Here the undeniable power of the union was demonstrated to me. I wasn’t really aware of just how involved the union was in local politics until the President of CWA Local 7019 — Irene Robles, along with Paul Castaneda, and Joe Gosiger recruited me for a new training a few years ago. This training was the CWA Political Activist Training geared toward building our membership politically and socially. Before that training, I had only participated in some local political campaigns in my personal time. Once I completed the CWA Political Activist Training, I became more involved in union politics. One of my first actions post-training was organizing a group of members to phone bank and canvass for Arizona political and issue-based campaigns.
One of the major organizing victories I experienced came with my involvement in the campaign to oppose the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) — the recently rescinded job offshoring corporate trade deal. I spent countless hours giving presentations about this disastrous trade deal to many community groups. I also organized three town hall meetings, and participated in radio interviews.I canvassed neighborhoods with coalition partners such as the Sierra Club, and protested the office of Congresswoman Kyrsten Sinema (a Democrat who had to be pressured to stand with working people). I saw the power of direct action organizing, especially when Congresswoman Sinema was calling The CWA Political Director, Rafael Navar, expressing concern about the pressure that she was getting because of her support for the TPP.
As a steward, I am able to fight for those who are mistreated. The union makes me feel brave enough to stand up to corporate greed and politicians. I know the union protects me and has my back. I am very lucky to be a part of such an amazing union of people who fight for justice every single day.
I am inspired to fight for others because of my caring parents. My father, Luis Bejarano,was an immigrant from Mexico and did not have the opportunity to attend school . He had to leave school in the third grade to help his mother on a small farm. He constantly shared his painful experience of living in extreme poverty with me and my siblings to persuade us that education was the only way out of poverty. He did not want his children to be at the mercy of a bad supervisor’s’ every whim, which is what he was subject to while working as a mechanic and farmhand in Roll, Arizona.
If my father felt there was a discrepancy with his check, he would have to keep the grievance to himself. He feared losing his job and not being able to provide for his family. Although we were poor, my father always kept food on the table. My mom, a seamstress, sewed our clothes. My parents never turned away a hungry person. They taught us to fight for those without a voice and to help those in need. If someone was stranded on the side of the road, my dad would pull over and help out.
As I grew up and moved to the big city to attend university, I realized that my father had sacrificed everything for us. He worked in an unsafe environment full of pesticides and chemicals with no one he could turn to. He suffered injustices and humiliating situations in order to provide for his family. Being a part of CWA opened my eyes to the fact that employees have rights and should be treated with respect. My father passed away in 2002, and since then, I have tried to dedicate as much time as I possibly can to helping others. He is the reason I stand up for those being mistreated and fight so hard against corporations and politicians who only care about maximizing their profits. His situation working on the farm is not that different from what working people face today. Corporations everywhere want to increase their profits by any means making income inequality greater than ever.
As union activists, we have to remember that every gain that the labor movement has made is now under attack by those who don’t value working people. We have to open our eyes to the fact that corporations and economic elites are buying elections and undermining our democracy. We can’t give up now! We have to take the power away from those who want us to be powerless. Please join me in this fight. We can’t win this fight alone, brothers and sisters. We have to do it together.