Ms. President

Ms. President

I was born in Brooklyn New York in 1967. I loved the 70’s because of the Black Panthers, stories of Malcolm X, the beautiful Red, Black and Green flags, Stevie Wonder and afros. Black people use to take such pride in being Black. I was proud of being Black. Thirty something years later I find myself in the South pushed back forty years. I grew up with a father who was a manager at the post office and always taught us not to allow ANYONE to talk to us any kind of way. He instilled in us that we are on the same level as anyone that is human. I never forgot that.

In New York I worked at the telephone company and was introduced to being a union member. I was told the unions are there to help me and that management cannot fire me without just cause because of the union. My dues were taken out of my check on a weekly basis. I received a union card and felt proud to be a member. Whenever I had a problem they came to my aid. New York is a close shop state which means all non management people are union members. There is strength in numbers.

I relocated to Florida in 1999. I decided to leave New York to give my son a safe environment. Though it proved to be a physically safer place for my son, it proved to be a mentally unsafe place for me. I got called a nigger for the first time in my life here in Florida. It was at that moment I knew I would become an activist in this state to make a change. When I was fortunate to land a decent paying job here, at first I thought maybe I should just mind my own business and concentrate on making money for me and my kid. However once I joined the union at my current job I knew I had to get involved not just for me but for all of my co-workers, their families and my future co-workers.

My union president at the time made it obvious that if you were not white he wasn’t going to fight for you the same. We all pay the same amount of union dues but he had an opinion about Black people and that was that we want to get over and we play games. I cannot tell you how many times I argued with this man about how he does not represent the Black workers fairly. I made a best friend at this company and she was out on workers compensation. Her driver’s license was suspended but since she was out of work and scheduled for an operation on her arm what difference did it make. She wouldn’t be back to work for months and the doctor already told her she cannot drive. The company bought my friend in while she was out recovering and fired my friend because she didn’t get her license reactivated.

I told this to the union president. He said there was nothing he could do and he’s going out of town so he cannot come to represent her. When he told me that something came over me and I knew I had to be involved with this union. I had to get rid of this so called racist president and work my way up to represent all the people equally. Black people are viewed as lazy, good for nothings here in Florida. That union president proved that to me and I’ll be damned if I was going to sit back and pretend we didn’t overcome. I promised that president as long as I am employed at this company he will NEVER be union president again. That was back in 2003. I became a union steward, chief steward, vice president and now president. It took me six years to climb the ladder but I made it. I have faced all kinds of trails and tribulation to get here. The hardest part of this journey to me is how my own people (Black) go against me. Many of my own people are filled with jealousy, disloyalty and fear. Companies here know that this is a right to work state which only means they can work you like slaves and fire you any time they want because you don’t have any rights state. One of my goals is to change this state to a close shop. There is power in numbers. If every non management person was a union member, than the power would be in the workers hands. Non management worker are the majority right now but workers are not united due to fear, jealousy and low self esteem. There is no pride of being a union member in the South. My term is only three years and I do not plan on running for union office any more. I have a big agenda but with unity, hard work and loyalty we change anything. The power is in the people.

Vanessa Cephus

Local union president of 1593


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