Member Spotlight is a recurring blog post series intended to highlight and connect the dots between the programs and priorities of the NC State AFL-CIO and the leaders and activist members of our affiliates who make it all possible.
My name is Keedren Gantt, I work at American Airlines, and I am president of Communications Workers of America (CWA) Local 3640 in Winston-Salem, North Carolina.
Like many workers in this country, I didn’t fully understand the impact of unions when I started my job at American. My only prior experience with unions was being told at a former job to sign paperwork stating that I would not join or form one. It was when my fellow union members at American started coming to me with questions and looking for representation that I realized just how much work there was to be done to secure fair treatment and respect on the job. So I agreed to become an active member, first as a shop steward, then as a vice president before becoming local president. I probably wouldn’t have done any of it without the encouragement of my friend and coworker, Nemanja Karaman–which is itself a reminder of the power and empowerment to be found in our solidarity.
Union work suits me. I’ve always questioned wealth and power disparities. As a child I remember seeing poverty around me and not understanding why there were billionaires living luxuriously while other people were homeless and hungry. When I was a teenager, my grandfather took me and my cousins on a trip to DC, where I vividly remember seeing the grand view of the U.S. Capitol down the street, in stark contrast to the makeshift cardboard home someone had built on a nearby sewer vent. I had been told ours is the richest nation, and yet I couldn’t shake this image of our Capitol as a backdrop for poverty and strife. That’s when I realized the need for sharing and redistributing power to the people, and people power is exactly what unions are all about and how we affect change.
The biggest thing I want people to understand about the labor movement right now is that it’s not about political parties; it’s about building power for all working people–before, during, and after elections. Yes, we need to educate ourselves about how our votes can shift the tides in our favor, but our work doesn’t stop there. We need to hold our elected officials accountable by exercising our freedom to vote and then by exercising our freedom to go and talk to the people elected to represent us. It doesn’t matter if you grew up a Republican or a Democrat. What matters is that we are working people, and together we must be advocates for ourselves, for each other, and for the communities we call home.