May 10, 2017 marked the 80th anniversary of the granting of Local 1167’s Charter by the Retail Clerks International Protective Association, as the UFCW was then known. The Charter lists the names of 17 members in Riverside County. In observance of that historic event, a series of articles recording the union’s history and featuring major historical figures will appear in each edition of upcoming Desert Edge magazines.
Bill Brooks recalls building strength through ‘family "We did all kinds of things to create a feeling of family in the local so that we would be much more than a distant, faceless organization to the members,” said former UFCW Local 1167 President (1973-1983) Bill Brooks.
Among many innovative unifying programs and events, he and the entire staff dressed in costume every Halloween.
“One Halloween, a truck delivery by a non-union carrier was refused entry by Katie McPike, my secretary, in our Rialto office, following my instruction to deal only with union outfits,” Brooks recalled.
“The driver, naturally shocked and upset, demanded to see the president, so Katie brought him into my office.
“There he found the ‘distinguished union leader' — me — in a bright yellow onesie pajama complete with a trap door in the back and I carried a teddy bear and had a pacifier. "
“At first he wouldn’t believe who I was, but I sent him on his way with an invitation to return when the truck company had a union contract.”
His years as president were filled with economic progress for members, but he is most proud of the state-of-the art headquarters he conceived, designed and built in Bloomington in 1978. It is still a unique masterpiece of local union offices. It had become a family project.
“We found the 10-acre property and negotiated a purchase price of $35,000, down a third from the asking price,” Brooks said. “We paid cash. No mortgage.”
After he retired, the local during the administration of Bill Sauriol sold five empty acres of the original ten for $560,000 for a profit of $525,000. The sold acreage remains an empty lot.
“I can’t imagine what the remaining land and the building are worth today, but I’d guess it’s more than we paid,” he said with a wry smile.
“With my wife, Charlotte, and son Steven, we supervised the design and construction, with Charlotte personally doing the interior — wallpaper, paint, desks, chairs, everything.
“The architect created a rose garden at the main entrance that survived until the building was enlarged many years later. He dedicated it to Charlotte for all the work she saved him.”
Brooks is also proud of reviving the local’s communications program.
“Our newspaper and internal communications had been discontinued and we created successor programs that continue to this day, winning awards for excellence and helping to keep our union family informed and united,” he said.
“And, of course, there is the scholarship program for members and their families that we created.
“I don’t know how many people have been helped in their pursuit of higher education or how much money overall has been awarded. I do know that hundreds of our people who might not otherwise have gone to college have been able to do so because of the local’s financial assistance.”
Bill Brooks was born in Hollywood in 1925. His parents moved there from Michigan, where his father, a union member, worked as an upholsterer for the Ford Motor Company. In California his mom and dad owned and operated a tea room in Hollywood.
A Local 1167 member since 1949, Brooks inherited intense unionism from his father.
After his father died when Bill was 14 he moved to Santa Monica with his mother and younger sister. The family’s need for money required Bill to go to work immediately while still a schoolboy.
“As a teenager I went door-to-door selling magazine subscriptions to the popular magazines of the time — Saturday Evening Post, Liberty, Ladies Home Journal. My mother, Marjorie, went to work as a domestic house cleaner for the head of Twentieth Century Fox, Darryl Zanuck.
“My first job in the grocery business was at a store called Wonder Market in Ocean Park in Santa Monica. I rode my bike back and forth to work.
“I started in groceries, moved on to the deli, and then to produce while still a youngster.
“The store was union and I was a member of Santa Monica Retail Clerks Local 1442 at age 16, making $25 a week for 40 hours. When I learned that another employee doing the same job was making $39 a week, I quit after three years and took a withdrawal card from the local.”
During and briefly after World War II, Brooks served in the United States Army’s Corps of Engineers, stationed in Seoul, Korea, as part of the occupation there. He was honorably discharged with the rank of staff sergeant in 1947.
Just 22 years old after leaving the Army, he lived with his mother, who had moved to Palm Springs.
“I got a job setting type for the area newspaper, The Limelight News, where I worked for a year and a half,” he said.
“I was and am a happy guy, so I left that job because the boss had absolutely no sense of humor.
“Right around then my mother and I moved to Riverside, where I got a job at a shady outfit called Country Store — I say shady because they routinely cheated customers. For example, they would cut ears of corn in half and sell them for full price.
“I quit after a year and got a job at the Stater Bros. store in Loma Linda, where I worked in produce for six years. That was 1949 and I immediately rejoined the Retail Clerks at Local 1167. Ted Phillips was secretary-treasurer.
“Cleo and Leo Stater were identical twins who frequently confused people about who was whom. They were ambitious and competent, moving rapidly to build store after store in our rapidly expanding area after the war.
“Pretty soon I was transferred to the new Stater Bros. store in Redlands, as other stores went up in Bloomington, West Riverside, Colton and San Bernardino, though I’m not sure in that order.
“While still working for Stater Bros., in 1958 I think it was, I was recruited by the Retail Clerks International to join the Southern California regional staff. I took a pay cut to accept that job, but it looked like and turned out to be interesting and challenging, as well as a major learning experience.
“President Ray Butler called me one day and asked me to join the staff at Local 1167, which I did, serving as a business agent for 10 years before my election as president.
“There’s a funny story about my quitting the International Union to go to work for the local. The regional director called Ray and told him that Brooks was the last guy they would train to become a local business agent.”
Late in his career, he requested a reporter from the company that assisted him in producing the Desert Edge newspaper to cover a membership meeting. The meeting was sparsely attended and the reporter asked Brooks why so few members were participating.
“When things are going as well for the members as they have been the last few years, they don’t come,” he said. “If things go sour, I expect you won’t find a seat in the meeting hall. Right now the hall has been pretty empty at meetings for years.”
Bill Brooks, now retired for 35 years, celebrated 65 years of marriage in July 2018. He is still spry, articulate and a passionate unionist. He lives in Carlsbad with wife, Charlotte, and his son Steve.