Huma Rashid's Reviews > I Am a Teamster: A Short, Fiery Story of Regina V. Polk, Her Hats, Her Pets, Sweet Love, and the Modern-Day Labor Movement

I Am a Teamster by Terry Spencer Hesser
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May 20, 11

Read from May 19 to 20, 2011

Ugh. This book itself barely deserves three stars. It isn't that well-written, and it's way too starry-eyed, even about the negative aspects of this woman's life, and the negative aspects of her personality. But Regina Polk's life deserves five stars. Six. Ten. So this gets a four.

I have some entries up at my book blog about this book, and I have more planned, so I'll be updating the tag, but for my review here on GoodReads, I wanted to do a write-up on the lessons that can be learned from the remarkable Regina Polk.

LESSONS LEARNED FROM REGINA POLK

1. Be sincere and genuine. (That was what drew people to Regina in the first place. She cared about them and their struggles and their families and their prospects and their stories.)

2. Be confident. (Regina was always confident. When she transferred to a new school, she marched in, shoulders back and straight, smiling, and waited for the teacher to seat her. Her classmates mentioned that she wasn't stick-thin (?) but in that moment everyone thought she was a knock-out. I found the stick thin comment problematic but whatever.)

3. Be humble? (I'm iffy on this one because she didn't like praise as a youngster, or even as she got older, but she always said that what she wanted was to walk into a restaurant with Ray Hamilton and for someone to be like, who is that, and someone else to be like, omg, that's Regina Polk, she's a Teamster and the greatest woman in the history of the labor movement.)

4. Build others up. (She did this often, made people feel good about themselves. That's just a smart networking strategy, really. And it inspires loyalty, which she needed.)

5. Share stories. (This was more of a tactic. She shared the stories of workers with other workers so they could sense some kind of commonality and shared bond, etc. It worked very well.)

6. Don't talk too much about yourself.

7. Listen to others.

8. Don't genuflect, but don't be disrespectful. (This is cheating; this is something that can be learned from her husband, Tom Heagy.)

9. Be articulate and intelligent. (She was a great writer, and knew a hell of a lot about the labor movement and her idol, Hoffa. It's my goal to be just as well read and informed.)

10. Loyalty. (She was very loyal to folks. It inspired loyalty in return.)

11. Accessibility. (She'd sit in the quad at U of C when she was trying to organize the hospital's clerical workers, and then, when the university threw her a curveball, ALL the workers. She'd often be called out late at night to talk, when the workers felt it was safe and they wouldn't be watched or harassed or threatened, and she'd go and she'd listen and listen and listen. Her workers - the ones she unionized - always said she was so accessible and they loved that someone was always there for them.)

12. Dress for your role. (On the picket lines she wore jeans to show solidarity. In arbitrations she was the best dressed person in the room with her dress, heels, and hat. God, her hats.)

13. "Slug your guts out." (And "bargain your ass off." This is what they did when they went to negotiate contracts. And Gina kicked ass at that. It's so impressive to me that this woman wasn't even a lawyer, but she did a labor lawyer's work when she went in there to write contracts and bargain and arbitrate and deal with grievances, etc. Amazing.)

14. Be interested in others. (This goes back to listening to others and being genuine, etc.)

15. Spin ideas to be good for BOTH sides. (This is a negotiation tactic that she used: she always spun her ideas for the workers as being good for BOTH sides.)

16. Put others first.

17. Have all the time in the world for others. (Ray Hamilton's son said this about Regina: that she had a crap ton to do but would have like four hour lunches with him while he was a student at DePaul and mentored him and made him feel like she had all the time in the world for him.

18. "Our hearts get broken and this is no better than a heart." (This isn't a lesson or a tactic. It's just something she said to her housekeeper when she accidentally broke a vase, and I liked it. It's a good reminder to not be so attached to material things. It's not like we'll take them with us or anything. I just loved the quote.)

I wish she was alive today. She'd be Obama's girl. She'd be dealing with labor matters on a national level. And I'd probably be trailing her like a shadow, trying to learn all I could from her.
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05/19/2011 page 25
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