Congratulations to Justin Willis, a Next Generation leader from USW Local 7-507 in District 7, who was recently elected as Commissioner for the Village of Bridgeview in Cook County, near Chicago. Justin says his Next Gen training and union education played a huge part in his election victory. We know many Steelworkers in the United States and Canada are running – and winning – for elected offices. We want to hear from you, so email us at firstname.lastname@example.org so we can share your stories!
My name is Justin Willis and I am a member of USW Local 7-507 in Summit, Illinois, just outside of Chicago. And as of this week, I am an elected official in Cook County: Commissioner for the Village of Bridgeview, Park District.
All my life I have found joy in helping others. Becoming active in my union through the Next Generation program, I have found that my passion for helping others is actually my life’s calling.
Since being in the Next Generation program, I have become a better person and a stronger union member. Meeting younger Steelworkers and younger activists like myself, I was able to see their strengths and that inspired me. They also encouraged me and educated me. Next Gen helped me break through my shell.
I can remember the first time I gave a Next Gen training, I was terrified because I knew in the room were union leaders who have been leaders since when I was in grade school, or longer. I hated speaking publicly. But I got through it, and my fellow young members and my mentors encouraged me to keep going.
The more training that I got and the more activities I participated in and planned, I realized that my union IQ went up. And so did my confidence. I was plugged in to issues that I may not otherwise have been. I learned how to get stuff done. I got better at public speaking.
I learned how to plan and execute events. I started meeting people in my community who believed in the same values I did, and I learned how to connect my union work to the greater good. At every Next Gen training I felt like I was able to speak truth to others and get truth from others.
I was able to learn what I needed to do to build up myself and build up others. We learned together. We showed through example how we are stronger together and that we truly can support each other as we ascend together. We saw that doing this helps build a union we can all be proud of and that others want to be a part of.
I learned in Next Generation that WE have the power. I saw that we need to step up as leaders every chance we get. I learned that our union has a responsibility to make our communities better and that if we are present in our communities, we can organize to help our union grow.
That’s partly why I ran for commissioner. And now that I am elected into public office, my plan is to ensure that labor is well represented in my community and in the party.
I have a lot of work ahead of me, and my hope is that more of my brothers and sisters will join me by running for office in your communities. Just like my fellow members pushed me to keep speaking and to keep being active, I’m encouraging you. So…are you in?
This is important because I feel that too many times decisions are made by politicians and the working person is the one who takes the hit.
I am now part of changing that. I know that I can’t do it by myself, but what I now is how to organize my community and I know the power of collective action. I know my union will be on my side, and with that, we will be heard and we will be respected.
I know this because of Next Generation. Throughout this journey, I have learned more than I can put into words. But probably the most important thing I’ve learned is that as a Next Gen member and as a USW member,
I have sisters and brothers that will have my back any time I need it. And together, we are stronger. Together, we can change our communities, and change our world.