Deborah Talley learned about the value of Local 400 representation the hard way. Not long after she started working at the Boar’s Head plant in Petersburg, VA, a new supervisor came on board and Deborah was assigned to train her. But then, things took a strange twist.

“After I trained my supervisor, she told me, ‘You look just like my mother-in-law,’” Deborah recalled. “She hated her mother-in-law. So it went downhill from there and she tried to get me fired. Were it not for my union, I would not be there today.

“I have no hard feelings toward her, because even though she tried to weaken me, she just made me stronger,” Deborah said. “And it’s because of that experience that I became a shop steward.”

If this were a non-union plant, Deborah could have lost her job thanks to her supervisor’s attitude. But as a union member, Deborah was protected from arbitrary and unjust discipline and couldn’t be fired without just cause.

Since then, Deborah has faithfully served her members as a shop steward for more than 12 years. And in February 2022, she gained a new experience—serving as a Local 400 special representative for a full year. Working at the Boar’s Head plants in Jarrett and Petersburg, she conducted orientations, pursued grievances and complaints, and helped to meet members’ needs.

“This was a great experience because I had more time to talk to people than when I was a steward,” she said. “I’d catch folks on their breaks or they’d call me at home. Whatever issues they had, I’d talk to HR and do everything I could to get them straightened out.

“I sat in on a lot of grievances, disciplinary actions and terminations,” Deborah said. “We can’t win them all, but we make every effort to get justice. And we did get quite a few people’s jobs back.

“It was great to be there for the people,” she added. “I’m passionate about helping people. That’s what I do as a steward and this allowed me to devote all my time to doing that.”

Deborah also made sure every new hire learned about the benefits of union representation. “People need to know all the great things our union does for the workers,” she said, “that we’re here for you to make sure you’re OK.

“Overall, being a special representative was a great experience,” Deborah said. “I got to go to Legislative Conferences and to lobby our elected officials. I learned a lot, met a lot of great people and they treated me like family. It was a blessing.

“I would like to give praise to my Local 400 Director Donna Waddell for giving me this opportunity and teaching me throughout my term all I needed to know to be successful,” she added. “This was truly a wonderful learning experience for me.”

Deborah has now returned to her job as a Production Lead at Boar’s Head and as a steward. She is grateful for the opportunity to serve as a special representative and for being a union member. “It means a great deal to me,” she said. “Being a Local 400 member is one of the best things I’ve ever had in my employment years. I’ve lost previous jobs where I wasn’t represented by a union. It’s a privilege to work for a company that has a union, I would encourage anyone anywhere to fight to get a union. It’s a great thing to have. They’re there for us. They fight for us. And I’m proud to have done some of that fighting myself.”