November 6, 2009 Volume 110 Number 21

Oregon AFL-CIO plans to target younger workers

BEND — More than 250 delegates attending the 51st convention of the Oregon AFL-CIO at the Riverhouse Hotel & Convention Center Oct. 26-27 made a strong commitment to bolster the federation’s constituency groups and to reach out to younger workers — in both organizing and involvement in union activities.

A resolution creating a new Youth Caucus for union members under 35 passed unanimously, as did a resolution to revitalize existing constituency groups within the Oregon AFL-CIO. Two groups that are moving forward aggressively are the Coalition of Labor Union Women (CLUW) and the Coalition of Black Trade Unionists. Statistics show that women, workers of color, and young people have the most to gain from union membership. In wages alone they can earn between 28 to 43 percent more when working under a union contract.

Other resolutions passed are listed here.

To help spread the message that unions are champions of the middle class, starting this month the Oregon AFL-CIO will launch a year-long radio and Internet advertising campaign. “We’ve been through some very tough times,” said Oregon AFL-CIO President Tom Chamberlain. “But we’re coming back, and we want the middle class with us.”

Guest speaker Stuart Acuff of the national AFL-CIO said that after decades of unfettered corporate-driven globalization, stagnant wages, and reduced benefits, the American people are ready for fundamental change that challenges the status quo.

“We now have irrefutable proof that greed is not good,” Stuart said. “We now have proof that the markets by themselves don’t work for the common good or the nation’s interests. (We now have proof) that if all the money and resources go to the top, the bottom and middle class are starved.”

National AFL-CIO Secretary-Treasurer Liz Shuler, who at 39 is the youngest person — and first woman — ever elected to that post, said she wants to re-connect with workers in their 20s and 30s. “These workers don’t know much about unions ... yet they need unions more than ever,” she said. “If things keep going the way they are, and no one turns things around, this is likely to be the first generation in the history of America that will be worse off than their parents.”

To reach those workers, Shuler, a member of Portland-based IBEW Local 125, said labor will have to use new approaches, such as electronic tools and social networking. “We also have to think about how we’re packaging the messages,” she said. “With this generation, we’ll get a lot farther if we use a little more humor, a little more wit, a little more edge.”

Larry Cohen, international president of Communication Workers of America, said labor is working hard to pass legislation that will rebuild the middle class. Top among them are the Employee Free Choice Act and health care insurance reform.

“We can win this fight. I’m convinced we can turn this around now,” he said. “But don’t leave it to people in Washington. It’s got to be the sales of working people across this country.”

Turning to politics, delegates passed resolutions supporting the 2009 Legislature’s Tax Fairness package — Ballot Measures 66 and 67 in the Jan. 10, 2010 special election. And they agreed to a one-time per capita tax assessment of $3 per member for the 2010 election cycle.

Delegates heard from three Democratic candidates for governor — former governor John Kitzhaber, former secretary of state Bill Bradbury, and former Hewlett Packard executive Steve Shields. Political endorsements were not on this year’s convention agenda.

The Oregon AFL-CIO presented awards to unions and union members for their organizing and political work in 2008-09. [The Oregon AFL-CIO convention is held every two years.]

Laborers Local 320 was recognized for “Most National Labor Relations Board Union Elections in a Single Year,” with four; the Oregon Nurses Association brought in the largest new bargaining unit — 350 nurses at Providence Medford Medical Center; and United Steelworkers was recognized for having the “Most Collaborative Organizing Campaign” at CRT Processing.

Kevin Card of Letter Carriers Branch 82 received the Pat Quigley Award for his political activity. The award was established in 2002 by the state labor federation as a memorial to Quigley, a past president and longtime member/political activist of Insulators Local 36 who died from liver cancer at the age of 52.

Linda Rasmussen and Grady Storms of Communications Workers of America were named “Most Reliable Volunteers.” NALC Branch 82 received kudos for the “Most Innovative Program,” which included creating walking maps for doorbelling in various districts. Oregon AFSCME Council 75 was recognized for “Best Worksite Distribution;” American Federation of Teachers-Oregon had the “Most Release Timers;” and six unions were honored for “Best Coordinated Worksite Flier Program.” The six were Painters and Allied Trades District Council No. 5, Sheet Metal Workers Local 16, Iron Workers Local 29, Laborers Locals 296 and 320, and International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 48.

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