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Bittersweet opening to WSLC Convention

Outgoing president Jeff Johnson, others deliver post-Janus call to action: Be bold


WENATCHEE (July 18, 2018) — The opening day of the Washington State Labor Council, AFL-CIO 2018 Constitutional Convention was bittersweet. Speaker after speaker discussed the attacks on unions, immigrants and working-class Americans, but vowed renewed energy and commitment in standing together for strong unions. And an outgoing WSLC president gave an emotional farewell address to convention delegates, saying his experience as their leader “has been a dream come true.”

WSLC President Jeff Johnson, who has announced he is not seeking re-election and will retire at the end of the year, said he was “so thankful for the opportunity to have spent the better part of my adult life working every day for worker rights, and for economic, social, and climate justice.”

But even after delegates interrupted his speech with a standing ovation, Johnson reminded delegates that he has six months left to go. And in the wake of the Supreme Court’s Janus decision that aims to “defund and defang” the labor movement, it is a critical time to step up and fight back.

“Our opposition has made a colossal miscalculation,” Johnson said. “They think that creating the possibility for some workers to not pay their fair share will somehow stop working people from standing up for workplace and social justice. That somehow this will stop us from organizing. Their miscalculation is that they have no idea why we do the work that we do, or what drives us and motivates us.”

AFL-CIO Secretary Treasurer Liz Shuler, who delivered Tuesday’s keynote address, explained how working people can respond to the “challenge of this moment.”

“Our answer to Janus is a labor movement unafraid to be bold and do things differently,” she said. “It’s confronting ‘right to work,’ not just at the ballot box or in Olympia, but by demonstrating the value of union membership, every day, and being relevant and essential to our members lives. We have to show them what their union is fighting for… an economic agenda at the national, state and local level that makes every job a good job, strengthens the social safety net and grows the labor movement; a future economy that works for all of us, not just the wealthy few; a new brand of politics that’s more than just a party label; and a commitment to diversity in deeds, not just words.”

EDITOR’S NOTE — Shuler also delivered this shout-out: “Whenever I get fed up with Washington, D.C., or I’m feeling frustrated that we aren’t making progress, I just pull up my latest copy of The Stand and read through all the victories happening here and it gives me hope.”

Tuesday’s other plenary speakers also delivered powerful messages about diversity, efforts to divide working-class people, and racial and immigrant justice.

Author/commentator Bill Fletcher, Jr. urged delegates not to stand silent when they witness racial injustices and hatred because that destroys trust and solidarity between working-class people. He said that is just what the ruling class wants when it sows racial divisions: to divide us and destroy the solidarity working people need to fight back.

“Solidarity is the working class’ insurance,” he said. “Insurance against our common foes. You may not need it every day, but you know damn well given who’s up against us that you will need it. You don’t get that insurance at the last minute. You don’t get insurance once you find out a hurricane is on its way… You get that insurance because you’ve got to be prepared. The working class needs to be prepared.”

Elise Bryant, President of the Coalition of Labor Union Women, brought delegates to their feet in a passionate plea to remember labor’s history.

“Don’t forget about our differences, honor them,” Bryant said. “We agree on this: We are an unstoppable force for democracy and for a standing of living for everyone to enjoy. That’s the promise of America. That’s the promise of the labor movement. We are the answer to poverty.”

Labor photojournalist and activist David Bacon explained how the Trump administration’s immigration policies aim to dehumanize immigrant workers and their families.

“First, we have a government that’s treating people coming here as criminals so mass deportations, detentions, separation of families, all that stuff is being put on steroids. And the real crime that the people are committing is that they are looking for work and survival,” Bacon said. “but we have to see that there’s another idea that Trump and some very right-wing growers are pursuing. They see these people as a source of labor, which they want, but also as having families, which they don’t want.”

Other convention highlights from Tuesday include:

► The WSLC presented its 2018 Legislative Leader Awards to Sen. Karen Keiser (D-Kent) and Rep Mike Sells (D-Everett), chairs of their respective labor committees, for their success in passing dozens of pro-worker bills in a short legislative session this year. From voting rights to equal pay, from bargaining rights to prevailing wages, many pro-worker bills were approved in 2018 and signed into law by Gov. Jay Inslee. Read all about them in the 2018 Legislative Report.

► The WSLC shared this video featuring union members describing the importance of sticking together in strong unions.


► Lands Commissioner Hilary Franz told delegates that her office is linking protecting Washington’s public lands with the creation of good jobs with family wages, and that she aims to continue and expand such policies so the interests of labor and the environment are not pitted against one another.

► The WSLC gave its 2018 Power to the People awards to MLK Labor for its successful member mobilization efforts to support Path to Power candidates in the 2017 elections. (Above, MLK Labor Political Director Katie Garrow accepts the award on behalf of the council.) The WSLC also surprised President Jeff Johnson with a separate Power to the People award for his efforts in supporting the labor’s endorsed candidates in his 32 years with the council.

On the convention agenda for Wednesday are WSLC Secretary Treasurer Lynne Dodson, Quinault Nation President Fawn Sharp, and Mark Dudzic of the Labor Campaign for Single Payer, plus panels on clean energy jobs and the #MeToo movement.

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