2013 delivered much to be angry about, but the future is on our side

Tom ChamberlainBy Tom Chamberlain, Oregon AFL-CIO President

As 2013 draws to a close, there is much to be angry about.

An estimated 1,500 to 1,800 people are sleeping on Portland’s streets or in their cars. Cuts to our country’s food subsidy programs mean there will be more kids going to school hungry. And cuts to unemployment benefits in the recently-proposed budget will force unemployed families to move in with family and friends, seek space in shelters, or end up with nowhere to go, in any event joining the legion of the homeless.

As the stock market climbs to record levels, home prices soar, and we add over 200,000 jobs to our economy, it is easy for the Congress to think the recession is over and that now is the time to cut back on benefits for those in need.

I am angry, and when you’re angry, it’s easy to focus on what is wrong and forget about what is right.

The 2013 AFL-CIO National Convention is reinventing the union movement, demanding accountability and transparency, forcing our movement to grow from 50 disconnected unions to a federation with a national vision.  Our vision grows our movement. It builds coalitions and fights for all workers. It passes comprehensive immigration reform and marriage equality; it creates middle class jobs and protects our environment while advancing an agenda that increases wages and benefits for low- wage workers; it not only allows our union movement to join with our partners but it reminds us that we must regain our historic role of being the voice for all workers – union and non, the poor, the sick and the disadvantaged.

Earned sick days is a classic example of those efforts. Working with and through coalitions, we passed an earned sick days ordnance in the City of Portland. And working with our coalition partners we will pass legislation to give all Oregon workers sick leave in 2015.

A $15-an-hour living wage ordinance passed by SeaTac voters gives low-wage workers hope.

We witness Oregon’s junior U.S. Sen. Jeff Merkley evolve from a politician to a warrior against Congressional stagnation as he led the charge for filibuster reform. Without his efforts, workers would not have the protection of a functioning National Labor Relations Board.

The Oregon AFL-CIO came together in a big way in 2013. We worked together to ensure that the new Convention Center Hotel would be built union and that the 300 hotel workers who will eventually be hired have an unfettered path to join a union. We are developing strategies and finding new resources to organize workers in a collaborative way that is proving to be a national model.

There is no question that America is following a pro-corporate agenda at the expense of American workers.  And there is more going wrong for workers than going in our favor. But we as a movement are moving in the direction of change that will lead to greater power and influence.

As we march shoulder-to-shoulder with our sisters and brothers in Bend and Hermiston for comprehensive immigration reform, you can feel it. When you catch a ride with Union Cab, you can feel it. When you sign the petition for marriage equity, you can feel it. When you talk to the para-transit lift drivers who just obtained their first contract, you can feel it: pride, hope, and a renewed belief that we can together create the America we were promised, that we can create an America that we deserve.

As we look toward 2014, we know that the future is on our side.

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