By JUSTINE WINNIE
SPOKANE — This year’s Spokane Labor Rally entertained more than 2,000 union members and their families Oct. 17, treating guests to an afternoon of timely speeches from “labor champion” candidates and statewide labor leaders, live music, and homemade barbecue treats. Then, a group of the area’s young union members adjourned to a local sports bar for the kickoff event of the newest chapter of the Washington Young Emerging Labor Leaders (WA YELL).
At the Labor Rally, Washington State Labor Council President Jeff Johnson and Secretary-Treasurer Lynne Dodson joined visiting AFL-CIO Secretary-Treasurer Liz Shuler in welcoming candidates and union families to the event, emceed by Spokane Regional Labor Council President (and State Representative) Timm Ormsby. Highlights included a children’s political education area and the Spokane Labor Rally’s first food drive, which raised more than $1,500 and several barrels of food.
Candidates spoke to the gathered labor community about the choices facing working people in the Nov. 6 election. They included Jay Inslee, Bob Ferguson, Kathleen Drew, Peter Goldmark, and Sheryl Gordon McCloud, and local candidates Rich Cowan, Andy Billig, Marcus Riccelli, Timm Ormsby, Amy Biviano and Denny Dellwo. The biannual event is funded and staffed by Spokane Regional Labor Council, its affiliates and their members.
Immediately following the Labor Rally, WA YELL proudly welcomed its newest chapter. Labor Rally guests and dignitaries converged on the kickoff event at the Tailgater Sports Bar to welcome Spokane YELL into the fold. Some 30 young members of IBEW, UTU, AFSCME, SEIU, IUPAT, UFCW, IAM, IAFF and OPEIU came together to meet one another and discuss the future of their new chapter.
AFL-CIO Secretary-Treasurer Liz Shuler (2nd from the right in photo — click to enlarge), who has long championed young worker groups and recognizes the significance of engaging young workers, stated her support of the grassroots work taking place in Spokane.
Also joining the newest WA YELLers at the kickoff event were Lynne Dodson, WSLC Secretary-Treasurer; Kandy Kraig, 5th District Vice President of the WSLC; Lee Malinda, Pride at Work WSLC Vice President; Dave Meyers, Washington State Building and Construction Trades (BCTC) Executive Secretary; and Beth Thew, Spokane Regional Labor Council Secretary-Treasurer.
The Spokane group’s organizers, Amy Cowin and Duane Cooper, expressed their hope to cultivate young workers in their area, described connections being formed with community groups such as the Spokane Alliance, and offered potential actions for the new WA YELL chapter to adopt, from Labor Neighbor political canvassing to supporting Walmart workers in an upcoming Black Friday action.
From the sounds of the conversations taking place between event attendees, this chapter is off to a beautiful start, doing what WA YELL does best: finding common ground between young workers and their communities, and encouraging them to share their perspectives and hopes.
The group’s inception comes as Washington YELL is bringing in more and more new members and developing new projects for the coming year. From advocating for training opportunities for young workers, such as supporting Cowin and Cooper to attend the Young Worker Leadership Institute in Washington, D.C., this past August — a conference both credit as inspiration to start Spokane YELL — to supporting phone banks and adopting a Walmart store with the Our Walmart campaign, WA YELL’s roots are broadening and deepening.