Washington AFL-CIO convention: ‘Labor can’t do it alone’

VANCOUVER, Wash. — Labor can’t do it alone. That was the number one message of the July 25-27 convention of the Washington State Labor Council (WSLC), which stressed “building bridges” to like-minded groups and individuals, including nonunion workers and the immigrant rights and environmental movements.

“If we are to give real voice to working people, then we must build true bridges with our strategic community partners,” said WSLC president Jeff Johnson.

WSLC, a state-level body of the AFL-CIO union federation, has local affiliated unions that represent around 400,000 union members in total. The three-day convention, held at the Vancouver Hilton Hotel and Convention Center, drew 400 delegates and 100 alternates.

One convention highlight was a set of hour-long “listening sessions” led by trained facilitators. The national AFL-CIO is conducting the sessions around the country in preparation for its quadrennial convention Sept. 8-11 in Los Angeles. In essence, participants were asked for ideas about what the labor movement can do differently — an acknowledgement that what organized labor is doing now isn’t working. Union ranks are shrinking, and workers are falling behind.

Several elected leaders addressed the convention for public sessions or closed discussions, including Washington Gov. Jay Inslee, state Sen. Nathan Schlicher, and Congressman Denny Heck. Delegates also heard from the Vermont AFL-CIO about efforts to bring about universal health care in that state via a public single-payer health insurance system starting in 2017. And they heard from a national AFL-CIO trade policy expert that union opposition is firming up to the soon-to-be-completed Trans-Pacific Partnership — a NAFTA-style trade agreement covering a dozen Pacific Rim nations.

Convention delegates also approved resolutions setting policy and direction for the coming year. That included a unanimous resolution calling for a continued fight for funding of a new I-5 bridge over the Columbia River that would include light rail. Delegates also endorsed the national AFL-CIO’s call for comprehensive immigration reform.

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