Nina Turner-Led Workers' Rights Group Launches in Cleveland

"I don't believe that politics, in and of itself, is going to save workers," Turner said of We Are Somebody's mission

Nina Turner speaking at an election event - Scene archives
Scene archives
Nina Turner speaking at an election event

We Are Somebody, a newly launched Cleveland-based organization founded by Nina Turner and dedicated to labor justice, aims to harness the momentum of a summer of collective bargaining victories to support workers through grassroots organizing.

“Workers are finally fed up and they're making it known that they're not going to take it anymore and there is a moral inequality that is going on in this economy right now,” said Turner. “It's not even subtle. It's like a gulf–a Grand Canyon, if you will–between a worker’s wages and what we see happening to the moneyed class.”

A Cleveland native, Turner has served as both a Cleveland City Council member and an Ohio state senator. Drawing on her background as a progressive advocate and organizer, Turner says We Are Somebody will support workers regardless of industry or employer.

“When I use the term labor, I know traditional people are thinking labor unions, and that's one side of it,” Turner said, “but we do recognize that most workers in this country are not in labor unions, but they are still fighting the same battles for better wages, work conditions and benefits that people who are in labor unions have. So part of the goal of We Are Somebody is to galvanize the working people, whether they're unionized or not.”

From television and movies halting production to President Biden joining striking auto workers on the UAW picket line, the labor movement has made headlines this year. But Turner says the primary inspiration for We Are Somebody came from Alabama coal miners who struck for 700 days.

“I was curious about how they were able to hold the line and they were able to do so because they had robust strike funds,” said Turner. “It just made me think about what would happen if there was a private sector or nonprofit version of that, that helped to galvanize and support and strengthen workers to fund strike funds to provide direct action and support on the front lines for workers who really, really need it.”

We Are Somebody’s key initiatives include:
  • Supporting union strike funds through grassroots donations, foundation money and grants

  • Amplifying the voices of striking workers to help get their message out

  • Advocating for workers’ wages, benefits and conditions

  • Supporting for workers on the front lines in whatever capacity they need

“The primary goal of our work is to be side-by-side with direct action with the workers themselves,” Turner said. “We will survey — we won't tell them what they need. We will reach out to them and ask them what they need. How can we or somebody be the best help or best partner with them?”

The organization will also partner with Amazon Labor Union to highlight the experiences of Amazon workers organizing for living wages, better working conditions and healthy work-life balance.

A report from the Economic Policy Institute found that in 2022 CEOs were paid 344 times as much as a typical worker. For context, in 1965 CEOs were paid 21 times as much as a typical worker. This rise in pay isn’t a result of CEO productivity, according to the report, but rather a reflection of the influence CEOs have over determining their pay through increased bargaining power.

"The true might of the labor movement is anchored in grassroots, people-driven collaboration…to the corporate elite, bent on denying us fair wages, a dignified retirement, and respect both within and outside the workplace I say: know that we are united, vigilant and determined to end your insatiable corporate greed,” said Amazon Labor Union President Christian Smalls in a statement.

The report concluded that the economy as whole would not be adversely affected if CEOs were paid less or taxed more and recommends enacting policies to limit CEOs’ “collusion” with corporate boards. But Turner says workers can’t wait for politicians to act.

“We need to be out there right in real time pushing the issue because I don't believe that politics, in and of itself, is going to save workers. Workers are going to do it themselves,” said Turner. “If they wait around for politicians, actively elected politicians, it's not going to get done and we've seen that time and time again.”

A recent Reuters and Ipsos poll found that most Americans support the striking autoworkers and writers and actors (although the writers’ strike has since ended). With a recent string of labor victories and majority public support, Turner is optimistic that companies are taking note.

“They know that they are waking up the sleeping giants in this country to say to workers, ‘you deserve better,’” Turner said. “And that's happening all over the country.”

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