Convention sets policy for next two years

Two shadows hung over the Oregon AFL-CIO’s Oct. 17-18 convention: the departure of five large unions from the national federation, and the resignation of Oregon AFL-CIO President Tim Nesbitt.

This would be the last convention at which Nesbitt presided, and numerous invited guests offered praise. John Sweeney, national AFL-CIO president, told delegates that under Nesbitt’s leadership, the Oregon AFL-CIO has become “the smartest, toughest, fightingest, and winningest state labor federation in the AFL-CIO.” Meanwhile, the future finances and strength of the Oregon AFL-CIO were in limbo, waiting for Sweeney to reach a deal that would allow the departing unions to stay affiliated at the state level. (See related article.)

Still, for the 206 delegates attending the 2005 convention, it was a chance to make policy, approve structural changes proposed by the federation’s leadership, and, along with 110 honorary delegates and guests, get educated for the struggles ahead.

Delegates heard from a sizable roster of Oregon elected leaders, who offered words of support — and thanks to labor for its help getting them in office. They included Governor Ted Kulongoski, Congressmen Peter DeFazio and Earl Blumenauer, Labor Commissioner Dan Gardner, Secretary of State Bill Bradbury, Attorney General Hardy Myers, and one Republican — pro-labor State Senator Ben Westlund. Former union leader Randy Leonard, now a Portland City Commissioner, welcomed delegates to the Oregon Convention Center.

After committee and floor debates that sometimes showed passionate disagreement, delegates took numerous votes setting policy for the Oregon AFL-CIO. Resolutions came sponsored by individual unions or committees of the Oregon AFL-CIO. Most votes were unanimous or near-unanimous. Among those approved were resolutions:

• calling for immediate withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraq;

• convening a coalition to consider forming a new Oregon political party for working families;

• supporting a campaign to get a memorial on the state capitol grounds to workers killed by on-the-job injuries or illnesses;

• calling on unions to use union entertainers at all union events; and

• approving a strategy for how the Oregon AFL-CIO will support efforts by affiliates to unionize new members.

They also approved changes to the Oregon AFL-CIO constitution: making the secretary-treasurer position unsalaried; reimposing a special assessment of 20 cents per member per month for 10 months for the 2006 election cycle; and giving the Oregon AFL-CIO Executive Board authority to raise affiliate dues 20 cents per member per month if the unions that disaffiliated at the national AFL-CIO don’t remain affiliated at the state level.

Delegates were educated — on health care, trade, and state politics. And the Oregon AFL-CIO put delegates to work — hitting the streets of Portland to sign up new members to Working America, the AFL-CIO’s community affiliate program.

Among invited speakers, the clear house favorite was Stewart Acuff, organizing director for the national AFL-CIO, who drove delegates to their feet in numerous standing ovations. “We have to continue to be the conscience of the economy,” Acuff told delegates. “Our mission is to build power and use that power to make life less mean and more noble.”

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