Continuing our Women in the Labor Movement series to celebrate Women’s History Month, we’re spotlighting a young leader in the California labor movement: Nichole Trujillo Rice. Nichole Trujillo Rice currently serves as district legislative representative for United Food and Commercial Workers, Local 8-Golden State (UFCW) and Secretary-Treasurer of the San Joaquin-Calaveras Counties Central Labor Council. She began working for UFCW in 2008 and was elected to the office of Secretary-Treasurer in 2015. She has organized young workers and helped form Young Workers of California and served as President of Women Democrats of Sacramento County. Nichole lives in Sacramento and is the oldest of 4 children, and proud wife of Dustin Rice, a San Francisco Fire Fighter with IAFF Local 798. She lives for her nephew and niece and loves to run, swim, and hike. She’s also an avid sports fanatic and bleeds orange and black.
Nichole took time to sit down with us this week and had lots to share!
How did you get started in the labor movement?
I come from a union home and a tightknit family. My grandfather was a proud Ironworker with Local 378 in Benicia and my father and uncle followed in his footsteps, all active in the building trades and in their union. Because I grew up in this environment, I always identified myself as a worker. I decided to study business in college because of my love for math and economics. While going to school I got a part-time job working for UFCW three days a week helping out with administrative tasks, the organizing department, etc. After graduating from Sacramento State University, I started taking the prerequisites to attend law school but it just didn’t fit for me. Working part time at UFCW helped me see how much I wanted to work in the labor movement. Around that time, the North Valley Labor Federation was being formed and I just kept volunteering for various campaigns. It reaffirmed for me that this is what I wanted to do with my life. At that time, UFCW figured out a way to include me in their political department.
When did you pursue your first position of leadership within your union and what prompted you to do so?
I loved the work and my job so I just kept asking to do more and more. I started to get acquainted with all of our different affiliates and the trades unions in the north valley and in Sacramento. Then I started to look outward to build relationships and alliances with organizations that seemed like a natural fit. I joined Women Democrats of Sacramento County and was eventually encouraged to join their executive board and take on other leadership positions including Vice President of Programs. Though that role I used every opportunity I had to integrate the labor movement into the organization. I found that some of our progressive allies needed to be informed more about labor and our movement.
I was asked 11 times to run for president and then finally said yes and served for one year. Running a club that made political donations like Women Democrats gave me a great opportunity to learn how to manage expenses and a membership base. I knew that these lessons could help improve our Central Labor Council. I believe that skillset helped me get elected to the position of Secretary-Treasurer for the San Joaquin-Calaveras County Central Labor Council in 2015.
For many women, mentorship can help advance their career. Have you had any mentors who have helped you along the way? If so: How did you form that relationship? Do you have any advice for mentors/mentees?
I’ve had so many mentors throughout my career and people that I look up to. It’s in my nature to constantly ask questions if I don’t know something and to not be shy about it. That lends itself to finding mentors naturally. My boss Adam Loveall & my union President Jacques Loveall have been incredible and I can’t thank them enough for their mentorship & confidence in my ability. They truly helped cultivate my desire to organize and take pride in the work we do. I also consider Jim Araby, the Executive Director of the UFCW State Council to be a mentor for his strategic thinking and leadership skills.
My advice to women seeking mentors: you have to seek out whatever helps you and someone who can help you build up the skillsets you want to improve. It doesn’t mean you always have to find someone older than you, either. Seeking out peers in the labor movement can be extraordinarily helpful. I’ve become friends over the years with fellow union staff and members who have helped me build confidence and strategize. When you’re in the trenches with someone, you really can’t help but learn from each other and trust each other.
As a business major in college, it wasn’t always easy to make friends with people who shared my values. In the labor movement it’s been the exact opposite. There are so many young people with common goals yet different expertise. This is a great foundation for a mentor but also a genuine friendship.
As Secretary-Treasurer of the San Joaquin-Calaveras CLC, what advice do you have for women in the labor movement who are interested in pursuing positions of leadership?
Get to know your community and it can be small or large. Build relationships with the staff in your union, the members, and community allies. Coalition building is the key to any leadership role. It’s one of the most effective ways to bring in new ideas so you can consistently move forward and improve. You really just have to think like an organizer but on a larger scale. Also: volunteer! People like to volunteer for a soul rush and you should join them! Walking a precinct won’t seem so scary if you’ve been building relationships out in the community through volunteer work. Furthermore, our obligation to our union members goes beyond their contracts, we have to improve their community.
What does the labor movement stand to gain by having more women at the table and in decision-making? Particularly young women?
It’s a win-win! Working men and women from all different backgrounds make up the labor movement. I’ve always found that experience is tantamount to knowledge. The more we continue to diversify our leadership, the greater our movement will become. There is a place for young women in this movement and more and more I have seen a genuine emphasis on cultivating young women leaders. However, we can always do more. I have often found that union leaders say they understand the extraordinary value of growing our movement through involving more women workers and identifying women leaders at their worksite. However, it cannot stop there. We need more space for women leaders in our movement and need to actively recruit women to fill positions of leadership within their unions and organizations.
Young women also stand to gain so much by joining a union and then pursuing positions of leadership in their union. Unions embody the essence of equality and fairness. The fact that women in unions have the chance to sit next to their coworkers and bargain for a fair contract is powerful. It takes the mystery, and potential inequities, out of promotions, wage increases, and benefits. When you have a union contract, everything is clear and consistent, regardless of gender. We need more women at the table to ensure fair representation at their worksite and in order to make sure that happens, we need more women involved in strategic planning at the top.
What are some of the goals you hope to accomplish as Secretary-Treasurer of the San Joaquin-Calaveras CLC?
We want to help out with organizing and build our movement. We are becoming more involved with All in to Win campaigns and I want this to continue. We want to take a methodical and strategic approach to the 2016 elections and use them as an organizing tool through aggressive voter registration campaigns. Improving and expanding our candidate recruitment for public offices is also a big goal. We need to ask people who will defend working people to run for public office. We’re also working hard to brand our CLC one city at a time. We want people in the community to know who we are and what we stand for: our working brothers and sisters in the Central Valley.
Who is someone you look up to in the labor movement or from labor history?
My grandpa, Ray Trujillo. He has worked up and down 99 corridor for years to champion workers’ rights, even as a retiree. I look up to him and I rely on him. My grandfather embodies union activism. To this day he will always write “paid for by good union wages” on every restaurant receipt before he leaves. It was a great honor for me because he swore in all of the new officers (including me!) when we took office this year.