Harnessing the Union’s Collective Generational Power

Spotlight on NEB Member Caroline Oelkers

March 1, 2023
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Photo by Local 600 Still Photographer Mark Hill

Caroline Oelkers is determined to inject a bit of youth into Local 600’s leadership. But the 27-year-old Digital Imaging Technician also respects that she has a lot to learn about the union’s inner workings and lessons to build on from its established members.

Oelkers is currently serving her first term on Local 600’s National Executive Board.

“I joined the board because I think that we are our union,” Oelkers says. “It’s not some separate entity or leadership. The members define how strong the union is.”

Oelkers was elected to the NEB in 2022 and serves on the Central Region Council. She started her career in 2015 working in the non-union world of music videos and indie films but found that once you experience the value of working under a union contract, there’s no going back. She became a Local 600 member in 2016.

She appreciates the support from union leaders, staff, and other members and believes that access to those resources is indispensable. She also finds it empowering to have a large group of people with whom she has something in common.

“During the last negotiation cycle, I noticed some disconnect between newer members of the union and members that have participated in the union for a long time,” she said. “I wanted to try and bridge that gap as well as get more involved so that I could make sure all members’ interests are being represented on the board.”

Oelkers has attended two NEB meetings in Los Angeles where she said she was struck by the depth and breadth of knowledge established union leaders bring to the table and the value that experience offers all members.

“It’s definitely a learning curve,” she said. “There’s a lot of parliamentary rules to catch up on, so I was mostly sitting and observing throughout the first meeting, trying to catch up. You realize that a lot of things get done at these meetings, and there is also a lot of transparency in the union as far as how things get passed. You just have to get involved.”

Oelkers primary focus is getting more newer members involved. She understands that learning the ins and outs of Local 600 can be intimidating for the uninitiated.

“For a lot of younger members, it’s going to be their first time being in any kind of labor group like this,” she said. “It can be very intimidating to go to meetings with 20-year members…and see what’s going on and get your voice heard. So, I think that the barrier to entry is scary. I know it was to me.”

Oelkers is quick to rattle off the benefits of union membership, such as access to affordable healthcare, pension, living wages, and yearly raises.

“There’s really no going back once you start working in the union world,” Oelkers said. “I think it’s really empowering to have this large group of people where you have this thing in common. I’m just trying to get more involved and help create a union that serves and respects all members’ needs and interests.”

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