IWJ visits Worker Center in Arkansas for Health and Safety training

Maria E. Gutierrez |

It was inspiring, being in front of a group of 24 true worker-leaders and advocates last weekend. I witnessed their leadership, enthusiasm, eagerness to learn, teach and share. Every moment at the eight-hour training was an opportunity to learn and teach for of us in the room.

Ark. Train the trainerThe new group of health and safety trainers in Northwest Arkansas was diverse in more ways than one. Latino, Marshallese and white workers from many industries including poultry and meatpacking, food processing, candle making, recycling, sanitation, construction and landscaping. And, of course, staunch worker rights advocates joined us.

Only six Latino workers of the 24 participants last weekend said they had received safety training from their employers, adding that it was presented only in English. With this new group of trainers, the worker center will be able to complete a statewide survey about the poultry industry and will reach out to worker for trainings in the languages they understand.

Following a popular education approach, workers and staff joined the training session. IWJ’s new national organizer, Janel Bailey, said she was fascinated with the active participation at the training. When we could hear the cacophony of many workers all talking at once during the small group activities, speaking of their own experiences, preparing short presentations, or asking questions, Janel referred to it as the “sound of popular education.”

I say it was inspiring because it reaffirms that in spite of the “right-to-work” (for less) law in Arkansas, and the many large corporations that call the state home, workers know there is hope for change when there is worker power. The Northwest Arkansas Workers’ Justice Center and its staff are committed to improving the leadership of members, and improving the working conditions of all workers.

At the end of the training when workers were receiving their certificates, a reporter from the local Univision station came to take pictures of the training. These trainings are important events for the local community, and are important for all those workers learning how to become peer- trainers for their co-workers.