Date: Sat, 27 Sep 97 13:05:40 CDT
From: Michael Eisenscher <email@example.com>
Subject: Inside the AFL-CIO Convention--Sept. 22, 1997
From: AFTEditor@AOL.COM (AFT Member)
Sender: AFT@LISTSERV.AOL.COM (The American Federation of Teachers (AFT)
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
PITTSBURGH WELCOMES AFL-CIO
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.
PRIORITY # 1: ORGANIZE
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,
FOCUS ON PROFESSIONALS
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.
LEADERSHIP THAT REBOUNDS
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."
LABOR ENLISTED IN LESSONS CAMPAIGN
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."
GORE URGES BALANCE IN LABOR LAWS
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."
SWEENEY CALLS FOR ELECTORAL ACTIVISM
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
SPREADING THE WORD
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
"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.