Virginia duo set standard for USW activism

It is difficult, maybe impossible, to find anyone who has dedicated more time to helping elect pro-worker, pro-union lawmakers than Gene Magruder of USW Local 8888 at Newport News Shipbuilding and Dale Bare of USW 1023 at Yokohama Tire.

Combined, they have more than 80 years of union seniority and more than 50 years of involvement with labor-to-labor election campaigns.

Last week, Magruder and Bare took a short break from their current campaign to share with us why they’ve committed so much of their time to our union’s efforts around elections.

In the late-1970’s, Gene Magruder and Dale Bare were strangers who entered two worksites, separated by more than 250 miles, with no knowledge of what the future would bring.

Fast forward 40 years, and they’ve become invaluable to the union’s work in Virginia.

Over the next two months, Gene and Dale are on union leave from their facilities, working full-time in an effort to educate union voters about labor’s endorsed candidates in Virginia’s upcoming elections.

This can be grueling work, especially in September when the temperature in Virginia is often in the mid- to high-nineties.

But, after more than 40 years of working at Newport News Shipbuilding – the sole designer, builder and refueler of aircraft carriers for the U.S. Navy – Gene has built up a tolerance for difficult jobs. He acknowledges there are inherent risks associated with the work he does in the plant, and is adamant that lawmakers have a responsibility to pass laws to improve workplace safety.

“If we don’t have the right legislators in office, then we can basically kiss goodbye a lot of the agencies that are there to keep us safe and healthy,” Gene insists. “In my plant, we are putting hard hats and safety shoes on every morning, hoping we come out alive. We need legislators who are committed to helping us achieve that.”

Virginia is a so-called “Right to Work” state with union density less than half the national average (4.5% compared to 11%). That’s why our union and all of labor celebrated when our 2019 union voter mobilization secured a pro-worker majority in the Virginia State House and Senate for the first time in nearly three decades.

Dale Bare works at Yokohama Tire in Salem, Virginia and first started volunteering with union election campaigns in the early 2000s. Anyone who spends any amount of time with him will quickly find he’s someone who is always looking for the upside, and in talking to him, they’ll realize labor’s resurgence in Virginia isn’t a fluke.

Rather, it is the outcome of optimism, solidarity, and the relentless work ethic of activists like Dale.

Dale is proud enough to admit that carrying a union card has something to do with the fact that he hasn’t missed a paycheck or gone a day without health care in 42 years.  At the same time, he’s humble enough to understand that the majority of workers don’t have the ability to negotiate for better benefits or safer working conditions, which is why he believes labor’s efforts around elections and lawmaking are so important.

“If our neighbor doesn’t have a voice on the job, and we do, then it is our obligation to fight for the greater good. Everything is political,” Bare believes.

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