By DAVID GROVES
WENATCHEE (Aug. 7) — AFL-CIO Executive Vice President Arlene Holt Baker brought her contagious enthusiasm and optimism to the Washington State Labor Council 2012 Convention on Tuesday. She also brought what’s become a familiar message from the AFL-CIO this year: the need to build an independent labor movement that supports only its true champions.
“It is important to put our resources into our own PACs and programs instead of any political party,” she said. “It’s been a long time coming, but we finally get it. Only with an independent labor movement can we campaign day-in and day-out for working people.”
That doesn’t mean withdrawing from the political process, Holt Baker said. On the contrary, it means targeting our efforts — and making them even more intense — on behalf of those individual elected officials who have demonstrated their support for strengthening the middle class, protecting our rights to have a voice at work, and opposing right-wing efforts to suppress the vote among minorities and low-income Americans.
“This political season we have every reason to go the extra mile,” she said. “We’re building a grassroots movement like America hasn’t seen in generations. We’ll struggle to keep democracy strong in America so every one that has a right to cast a vote can cast that vote and have it counted.”
See more coverage at AFL-CIO Now: Holt Baker tells Washington State union members: ‘We will change America’
TUESDAY’S OTHER CONVENTION HIGHLIGHTS
A Trade Immigrant Workers, and Trafficking Panel was kicked off by Lori Wallach, Director of Public Citizen’s Global Trade Watch, who warned delegates about the “mother of all trade agreements,” the Trans-Pacific Partnership. But she noted that previous trade agreements, including the FTAA, had been derailed by exposing the harm they would do to labor rights and the environment, and the same “Dracula” strategy can work with the secretly negotiated TPP: “We drag this critter into the sunshine.”
The panel was rounded out by Rebecca Smith of the National Employment Law Project who described the many industry-specific guest workers programs and why they leave these workers vulnerable to abuse and exploitation; and former state Rep. Velma Veloria and Emma Cataque of Asian Pacific Islander CHAYA, who both told heart-wrenching stories of human trafficking.
The Elsie Schrader Award, recognizing advancement of women into leadership roles and activism on behalf of women within the labor movement, was presented to Amanda Schroeder, 2nd Vice President of American Federation of Government Employees Local 2157. She served as the Oregon State Lead Organizer for the Unite Against the War on Women Rally held in April 2012 and is co-founder of the Support Our Sisters Domestic Violence Community Awareness Project for AFGE.
Dr. Stephen Bezruchka, MD, Senior Lecturer for the University of Washington Department of Health Services, discussed the evidence that health outcomes in the United States are falling further and further behind other industrialized nations, despite spending more than any other country on health care. He said bad health policies in the U.S., including lack of paid family leave and growing wealth inequality, are to blame.
“We need to recognize that poor people have poorer health and it’s not their fault,” Bezruchka said.
(Also see his op-ed appearing in today’s Seattle Times: “If there were a health Olympics, the U.S. wouldn’t even medal”)
An organizing panel offered examples of utilizing community support, legislative changes and public pressure to help workers gain a voice at work. It included John Williams, President of Teamsters Joint Council 28, describing the Port of Seattle truckers campaign; Stefan Moritz of UNITE HERE Local 8 outlining the SeaTac Airport workers’ efforts to gain job security; Megan Parke of the Washington Federation of State Employees, AFSCME Council 28, on her union’s successful effort to organize interpreters and achieve a first contract with substantially higher wages; and Elena Perez of United Food and Commercial Workers Local 21 on the Our Walmart campaign to empower workers at the world’s largest retailer to improve their working conditions. Walmart employee Ricky Martin also described his working conditions and the need for Our Walmart.
Kitsap Tenant Support Services, a company that provides in-home care services. Its workers have had no raises, no seniority rights, no affordable health care (the company offers expensive coverage that includes a $10,000 deductible), and 60% turnover each year. In March, despite an aggressive anti-union campaign by the employer that included firings of union supporters, KTSS employees voted by an 87% majority to form a union with the Washington Federation of State Employees. A contingent of these workers were invited to Tuesday’s session to explain how their struggle for a first contract continues.
“We finally have a voice to speak up for our clients, our family and our future,” said Lisa Hennings. But as firings continue and KTSS refuses to negotiate, “we are not going to back down. We have come too far to back down now.”
The convention continues tomorrow (see the tentative agenda) with post-primary election comments from U.S. Sens. Maria Cantwell and Patty Murray, labor’s endorsed candidates for Governor, Jay Inslee, and for Attorney General, Bob Ferguson; plus much more.