[Documents menu] Documents menu
Sender: owner-imap@webmap.missouri.edu
Date: Sat, 27 Sep 97 13:05:40 CDT
From: Michael Eisenscher <meisenscher@igc.apc.org>
Subject: Inside the AFL-CIO Convention--Sept. 22, 1997
Organization: ?
Article: 18797

Forwarded message:
From: AFTEditor@AOL.COM (AFT Member)
Sender: AFT@LISTSERV.AOL.COM (The American Federation of Teachers (AFT)
Mailing List)
Date: 97-09-24 02:13:28 EDT

Inside the AFL-CIO Convention--Sept. 22, 1997

By Mary Boyd and Dan Gursky, AFT
22 September 1997


The 22nd constitutional convention of the AFL-CIO didn't officially begin until Monday, Sept. 22. But don't tell that to the hundreds who flocked to Pittsburgh as early as Friday to attend the many pre-convention activities. On hand to greet the early birds was AFT vice president Al Fondy, who is also president of the Pittsburgh Federation of Teachers and the Pennsylvania Federation of Teachers. "I'm proud to welcome all AFL-CIO affiliates to Pittsburgh," beamed Fondy. "This is a great labor town, an historic labor city. The founding conventions of both the American Federation of Labor and the Congress of Industrial Organizations took place here," he noted. He also extended a warm invitation to all to visit the brand-new offices in the PFT building, constructed with 100 percent union labor.


What brought delegates to the city three days before the official opening of the convention were mini-institutes geared toward strengthening organizational effectiveness at the state and local level. Special conferences for union pension trustees, political activists, organizers and state federations and central labor councils were held Sept. 19-21 and drew hundreds of union activists.

At Saturday's day-long organizing conference, AFT president Sandra Feldman joined five national union leaders who talked about organizing in a hostile climate. "I can tell you that there were few who believed that the AFL-CIO could successfully organize professional workers like teachers," said Feldman. "There were some, like Walter Reuther, who believed. In fact, the Industrial Union Department of the AFL-CIO gave us seed money to make organizing a priority." The tradition in the AFT, she added, is that those who already are fortunate enough to be organized must support efforts to organize the unorganized. Feldman also pointed out that five AFT organizers are within the first class of 100 trained graduates of the AFL-CIO's new organizing school (see related story, posted on the AFT online area, www.aft.org).


Feldman also commented on the favorable climate for organizing professional workers. "With the same zeal that we organize the poorest and most exploited among workers, so, too, must we organize those in the middle class who are exploited in other ways," she said. "Highly educated professional and technical workers are among the fastest-growing segments of the workforce. And even though some may say these workers have been notoriously difficult to organize, I'm here to tell you that there are millions of professional workers who need unions, people who are ripe for organizing. Concerns over the quality of their work, the growing use of temporary workers in professional fields, the desire to network with people in the same profession, for professional training, a voice in the decision- making process, ensuring high-quality performance standards are all concerns for these workers, she added.


No one was more eloquent than AFT/HPAE's Ann Twomey in describing why and how her union organized for change and changed to organize. "Our union had a fairly good relationship with the employer at Jersey Shore Medical Center. But two days before the contract expired, management said they would no longer honor seniority; instead, a merit scheme was introduced. Then came managed care. We saw right away that, with a profit-driven system, the result was more profits and less care."

Twomey drew sustained applause when she said, "You have to designate people to organize. Don't pile on other jobs. Make it the priority for those people. Give your organizers the chance to do that job well. Our organizers are super-energized. Let them go and work it off!" Twomey closed by saying, "You'll get back what you give. If we help each other succeed, we all succeed."


On each of the attendees' chairs was a packet of information on the AFT's Lessons for Life campaign to raise standards of conduct and achievement. "If you don't already have education committees in your central labor councils, please set them up," Feldman urged. "Get involved in your schools. Labor can help us defeat those who want to change the kind of society we are. If they prevail, the gap between the haves and the have-nots will grow. Our opponents will have succeeded in gutting government programs of all kinds, especially those that benefit the labor movement."


Vice President Albert Gore, whom John Sweeney called "the No. 1 union organizer in the United States," spoke at Saturday's organizing conference. In building on that introduction, Gore lamented the recent rise of union busting and employer interference in union representation elections as well as laws that are biased against organizing. He praised the labor movement for turning around public sentiment, noting that "the goals of the labor movement represent the goals of the nation as a whole."

Added Gore, an early front-runner for the Democratic presidential nomination in 2000, "I'm here to tell you, people are going to have to worry about the stigma of union busting again." The vice president concluded urging the organizers to follow the advice: "Early to bed, early to rise, work like hell and organize."


Presiding over his first AFL-CIO convention, John Sweeney issued a number of challenges for member unions when it comes to political action. First, he said, unions should support campaign finance reform that includes public financing, free radio and TV time for candidates, and limits on contributions and soft money. Unions need to spend their resources on mobilizing their own members--some 40 percent of whom aren't even registered. "I'm asking everyone to help achieve the goal of registering 4 million new union family voters by the year 2000," Sweeney said.

In addition, Sweeney called on unions to encourage their own members to run for public office at all levels, with a goal of 2,000 union member candidates by the year 2000.

Sweeney also used the occasion to highlight a number of recent union organizing victories, including some by the AFT. "When it comes to organizing, we're winning again and we're winning big," he said, adding that "more membership drives are under way than at any other time in my memory."

The labor movement can't continue to decline in numbers and still have a strong voice in fighting for everything from better wages and working conditions to expanded health care and pensions. "We have to continue to change and reach to find ways to organize on a bigger scale and at a faster pace because the employers we are confronting are raising the stakes by spending millions of new dollars to deny their workers their legal right to organize," he said. "We have to find new ways to connect everything we do to organizing."

"We're organizing and we have a voice," he said. "Let's make it heard."


President Feldman has been in big demand among media representatives. Among the interviews she conducted: with KDKA, one of Pittsburgh's most popular radio stations, on the need to preserve public education and make all neighborhood schools top- notch schools; with Business Week, on the role of business in helping improve education; and with the Los Angeles Times on education topics in general. On Sept. 23, she met with the editorial board of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.

"Inside the AFL-CIO Convention" is prepared daily by Mary Boyd and Dan Gursky from the AFT offices at the convention center in Pittsburgh. For more details, visit AFT online at www.aft.org.

[World History Archives]     [Gateway to World History]     [Images from World History]     [Hartford Web Publishing]