TeamCAN: A New Vision for Iowa Activism


I attended a Teamsters Community Action Network (TeamCAN) training on May 20th in Mason City.  What I heard there left me feeling energized and ready to organize.  I was impressed with their message of moving from resistance to offense and building positive forward momentum.  Their breakout session, focused on results oriented planning methods, was a cut above anything I had found in other activist training sessions.

I was also particularly interested in the employee owned temp work cooperative they mentioned during the training.  As someone who has worked for a temp agency, I strongly agree with their position that it is an unfair industry for workers; as a socialist, hearing that Iowa now has an employee-owned cooperative was music to my ears.

In light of these positive impressions, and the fact that they seem to be filling a much needed niche, I reached out to TeamCAN president Jesse Case to share more about who they are, why they exist, and what they are planning to do for Iowa.

PVI:  What inspired the creation of TeamCAN?

Jesse:  The Teamsters Community Action Network (TeamCAN) was founded to enhance and invigorate organizing on the local level.  It’s a new framework that evolves and redefines our mission.  While the Teamsters Union is one of the strongest labor organizations in the country, the traditional role we play is not enough.  We do a good job of raising standards in the workplace but those same workers have to go home at night and deal with problems outside of the workplace.  TeamCAN is the social justice arm of the Teamsters.  While the local union will continue with its core mission – raising standards in the worksite, TeamCAN will organize around issues on the grass roots level in our communities.

At a time when many Americans feel hopeless over the attacks on our communities, TeamCAN is looking at it as a long overdue opportunity to redefine several movements, coordinate efforts on a new scale, and create new opportunities for people who are interested in organizing more effectively on a local level.

PVI:  What are you doing differently from groups like Indivisible and Our Revolution?

Jesse:  Unlike many other groups who identify themselves as autonomous organizations, TeamCAN is a coalition of progressive networks, organizations, and individuals who have come together to fill gaps in grassroots organizing efforts and provide new models of organizing that are outside of the traditional playbook.  TeamCAN is a coalition of traditional labor organizations, the faith community, the Womens March of Iowa, Iowans for Public Education, millennials, and other organizations and individuals who know that none of us is as strong as all of us.  Many organizations are oftentimes singular in their focus. TeamCAN is a network of those organizations, which enhances all efforts.

PVI:  What are your goals for this year and looking forward to 2018?

Jesse:  TeamCAN has moved rapidly in the first half of 2017 to fill gaps that were created by people who don’t give a damn about working people.  One of our major projects has been to create a temp agency co-op that is employee owned.  When the state legislature rolled back wages for 65,000 of Iowa’s lowest paid employees by rescinding newly passed minimum wage ordinances, we started partnering with workers who knew they could competitively bid against traditional temp agencies but pay $15.00 an hour – if they had the resources, expertise and help with the start-up process.  TeamCAN filled that gap.   The Corridor Temp Workers Coop was formed with the help of TeamCAN and later this month will be putting their first workers in the field at a rate 4 to 5 dollars an hour higher than other temp agencies yet at a lower cost to clients who utilize the coop.  We think we can duplicate this model across Iowa and even the country and change an industry that traditionally keeps people in a cycle of poverty.

Another major accomplishment in the first half of the year was to divide the state into 6 regions to start providing infrastructure and coordination in local organizing efforts.  We partnered with Indivisible to provide basic organizing training to activists in each region.  More than 150 activists from across the state have attended a TeamCAN organizing training, and a vast majority of them were new activists who left with knowledge on setting objectives, research, leadership identification, mobilization, implementation and other components of a strategic campaign.

TeamCAN is also partnering with a local boxing gym to create a mentorship program for kids who need to stay busy and off the streets, a group of local activists in another community who want to run a strategic campaign to repair or replace a bridge that’s been closed, creating a barrier to children walking safely to school, as well as other projects that apply basic organizing strategies.

There’s no shortage of people who are pissed off at what’s happening to their state or country, but that alone does us no good.  TeamCAN is training an army of organizers.

PVI:  Are there any areas where you think current activist organizations are getting it wrong?

Jesse:  It’s easy to identify what’s wrong with organizations or movements or to criticize from our couches. The hard part is successfully identifying what we should do next. Reevaluating and reanalyzing what we do and how we do it is a good thing.  TeamCAN looks at today’s political climate as an opportunity to redefine and evolve our movement as opposed to seeing doom and gloom. The neocons started organizing strategically in the early 1970’s with the goal of taking over the world.  They haven’t succeeded, but they’ve advanced their agenda.  But they’re not smarter than anyone else.  We just need a better strategy.  If what we’re doing looks, feels or smells like what we used to do we should stop immediately and ask ourselves what we can do differently that will be more effective in the long run.  The basic concept of TeamCAN is we don’t have separate movements that coordinate with each other – we are one movement. Where one organization lacks resources or expertise, the TeamCAN network can help fill those gaps to make everyone’s campaigns stronger and more effective.

PVI:  Can you share more about the employee owned temp work co-op you helped create?

Jesse:  The temp agency is a growing industry that keeps workers in a cycle of poverty.  More and more employers are using “permatemps” or people who are hired through a temp agency but work for years at the same job.  Traditional temp agencies charge high hourly rates to clients, mainly in the cleaning, clerical, manufacturing and landscaping industries but they usually pay the workers 8 to 10 dollars an hour. The Corridor Temp Workers Co-op is an employee-owned temp agency that can bid competitively with traditional agencies but pay workers closer to 15 dollars an hour.  It’s a small business designed to put the decision making in the hands of employees and more money in their pockets.  This will result in a higher quality workforce, lift people out of poverty and keep more money circulating in the local economy which will help the whole community.

The co-op is designed to be specific to a geographic region as opposed to a statewide conglomerate.  Other communities can use the template we’ve created and start their own temp agency co-op where they live with the help of TeamCAN.

PVI:  What should people do if they’d like to get involved with TeamCAN?

Jesse:  Invite TeamCAN to speak to your organization, set up a meeting to have coffee to find out more about how we can all coordinate our efforts and become a member of the Teamsters Community Action Network.

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