America’s top union leader pops into Portland

Oregon Building and Construction Trades Council officials Robert Camarillo (left) and Jimbo Anderson (right) met with national AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka at a labor reception at OHSU’s new Knight Cancer Center in Southwest Portland.

National AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka was in Portland March 27-28 for the Oregon AFL-CIO’s 2019 Organizing Summit.

“Something is happening in America, brothers and sisters,” Trumka told union leaders in the summit’s keynote address March 28. “Fed up with an economic and political system that doesn’t work for them, workers are turning to each other — to us. Every single day, more and more working people are realizing that the single best way they can improve their lives…is to join a union.”

A recent survey by MIT Sloan researchers and the National Opinion Research Corporation found nearly half (48 percent) of nonunionized workers would join a union if given the opportunity. That marks a sharp increase from about a third of the workforce expressing this preference in 1977 and 1995, the last two times this question was asked on national surveys. The scale of this change indicates that 58 million American workers would want to join a union if they could, quadruple the number of current union members.

The Wall Street Journal reported that 2018 was the biggest year for collective action in three decades, Trumka said. There were strikes and organizing wins in every sector and every region.

“We elected more than 960 union members to public office,” Trumka said. “Workers are in motion.”

The Organizing Summit was a training for unionists on organizing tactics, messaging around common sense economics, and how to build worker power in the wake of the Supreme Court’s anti-union Janus decision.

“As unionists, as organizers and as activists, everything we do comes back to one simple mission: lifting up the lives of working people,” Trumka said. “The best and most enduring way to do this is with collective bargaining and a contract on the job.”

Trumka joined local labor leaders the night before at a reception at the new Knight Center for Cancer at Oregon Health & Science University. Organized labor helped raise money for the Knight Center, which was union built and now is union maintained.

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