She has purchased cold weather clothing and sublet an apartment in Lakeview within walking distance of Wrigley Field, close to supermarkets and other necessities. And while the COVID-19 pandemic has made her work relocation a challenge, Winona Wacker, a Western Region Business Rep since 2018 and 16-year Local 600 member, is Chicago-bound to become a business rep for the central region.
“I’m dreadfully afraid of the cold as I’ve been a California girl basically all my life,” Wacker said. “I was born in Joliet, but I’ve never spent a lot of time in Illinois, so this is kind of a strange homecoming in a very sideways way.”
Wacker will cover the territory for Chicago and 11 states in the central region. Once it reopens, she will work out of the Local 600 Chicago office. She began laying groundwork for the move during Zoom meetings with the Chicago Young Workers and with the Chicago Entertainment Industry Labor Council in the midst of the pandemic. The members she has met have been welcoming, Wacker said.
Although not yet physically on site, she has already settled “in the trenches” of industry production in the area. In addition to the trio of NBC Chicago-set shows Chicago Med, Chicago Fire and Chicago P.D., a number of pilots, films and commercials came through Wacker’s new territory in the waning weeks of 2020.
“We started organizing a commercial in Michigan from a living room in Los Angeles, so it’s been boots on the ground since November 2,” said Wacker. “Oklahoma City has become a little bit of a hot spot for production. There are lots of organizing opportunities. It’s been awesome.”
Wacker’s union and industry roots run deep. The daughter of a kindergarten teacher mother and an entertainment Teamster father, Wacker was on movie sets as a youngster. Her last time in Chicago was as an 11-year old while her father was working on the 1988 Arnold Schwarzenegger film, Red Heat. It was around that same age when Wacker identified cinematography as the world she wanted to inhabit.
“From a young age, I realized that a woman could be a camera person and I became very single-minded thereafter,” said Wacker who earned many credits as a 2nd AC and loader. “I went to school and it was a straight line to the union, always and forever. I just knew this was the path I was going to take.”
“Even before I was a Business Rep, I was always on top of contracts and understanding the working conditions I was under and I wasn’t shy about letting the union know when things were going on that seemed out of order,” she continued.
Wacker anticipates an easy transition to the Midwest. Chicago is “a great labor town,” she said, and she’s looking forward to working with local members who have a history of keeping union staff members keyed in.
“COVID has changed a lot of things,” Wacker said, “but having a membership that’s engaged and intelligent is very valuable. I feel very connected with them because they keep me in the loop.”