Thank you for a great 14 years!

By Oregon AFL-CIO president Tom Chamberlain

This will be my last Northwest Labor Press column as president of the Oregon AFL-CIO. As many of you are aware, after 14 years, I have chosen not to seek re-election.

Graham Trainor, our current chief of staff, has my support and confidence for the next presidency of the Oregon AFL-CIO. Graham has the skills, dedication, relationships, and institutional knowledge to move our federation to the next level. Christy O’Neil of AFSCME has my support for secretary-treasurer. Christy has leadership experience, and as a Medford resident, she will bring a unique perspective on issues and programs for our federation.

The staff of the Oregon AFL-CIO is without a doubt the best in the country. They are truly amazing at developing cutting-edge programs, with the ability to activate statewide mobilization. Thanks for always being there for me.

Oregon AFL-CIO Secretary-Treasurer Barbara Byrd has provided guidance and leadership that has made our state better. Thank you.

I want to thank Northwest Labor Press editor Mike Gutwig for providing space in this publication for my monthly column. My first column was printed on September 22, 2010. That column was a contrast between gubernatorial candidates John Kitzhaber and Chris Dudley.

Over the past nine years, we have addressed issues that impact the lives of working people, from fair trade to the housing crisis, criminal justice reform, the gig economy and, of course, elections, legislation and collective bargaining. I have thoroughly enjoyed writing about all these topics. I have always believed that we need to hold elected representatives responsible for their actions, as my June 2019 article described the legislature’s PERS betrayal. I have written columns holding our federal delegation accountable for trade agreements that did not include strong labor and environmental standards as well as funding for enforcement. I have called out Congressman Kurt Schrader for his continuing record of voting against the needs of workers. On July 15, 2019, Schrader once again showed his corporate colors and voted against raising the federal minimum wage. I am always hopeful that a strong pro-worker candidate will emerge from Oregon’s 5th Congressional District so we can show Schrader the door to retirement.

The mission of our union movement is to advance a pro-worker agenda; to expand and strengthen the middle class; and to create greater opportunity for the next generation of workers. We understand that workers come in all shapes and sizes. They have different backgrounds and colors. We have workers that are straight and LBGTQ+. We must ensure they have the power to identify themselves as they choose. We also know that a workers’ movement must include union and non-union workers. Our movement must develop and advocate on every and all issues that workers face. These issues include immigration reform, housing, criminal justice, harassment-free workplaces and freedom to form and participate in unions. It is impossible to achieve these goals without a strong and vibrant workers movement.

The only means to counter a corporate capitalist agenda is through a strong and vibrant union movement. We need to reform current labor law to expand our membership and to address automation and the runaway “gig” economy. 

I predict that there will be such reform in my lifetime. I base this prediction on what I am seeing and experiencing today. Workers are in the streets fighting for a better life. They see the corporate elite nose-deep in a profit-and-tax-cut feeding frenzy that picks the pockets of every single wage-earning worker. At the same time, we see that workers’ lives are getting harder and harder. Workers no longer are willing to sit back and watch.

All too often, political parties, corporations, lobbyists, and elected representatives will try to play one union off another union. Do not buy into traps that will only weaken us. Stand strong — stand for and with one another. Remember, our movement is the only hope for the American worker. Thank you for a great 14 years.

3 Comments on Thank you for a great 14 years!

  1. Thank you Tom! You always inspire me. I hope you enjoy retirement, though I imagine we’ll still see you in the labor movement.

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