Helping Those in Need Is a ‘Labor of Love’ for Union Members in North Georgia

From the AFL CIO Blog:

Helping Those in Need Is a ‘Labor of Love’ for Union Members in North Georgia

by Aaron Gallant

April 23, 2020

https://aflcio.org/2020/4/23/helping-those-need-labor-love-union-members-north-georgia

Wearing face masks and gloves and sharing a determination to help their brothers and sisters in need, dozens of members of the Atlanta-North Georgia Labor Council sorted and bagged emergency food to hand out to union families on Saturday, April 18. The “Labor of Love” food drive was a member-to-member relief effort in collaboration with the United Way of Greater Atlanta and the Georgia State AFL-CIO, in partnership with Margie’s House mobile food pantry and the city of Fairburn, Georgia, to help 300 union families who are now struggling to put food on their tables. It was one of a series of volunteer events that the labor council has coordinated to support union members and the wider community during the pandemic.

In March, as classrooms were closing and fear of the coronavirus was increasing, members of the Atlanta-North Georgia Labor Council volunteered their time to help AFSCME school support workers in the Atlanta public schools prepare breakfast and lunch for students forced to learn from home. “Union members have been coming out. We’re trying to not only help our members, but also help the community,” said Sandra Williams (RWDSU), the labor council’s executive director. Union members were also on hand in conjunction with Atlanta Jobs with Justice, to deliver lunch to faculty, residents and students of the Morehouse School of Medicine working at Grady Hospital earlier this month.

In other ways, the labor federation is working to assist those who now find themselves without a job or are experiencing financial hardship because of this crisis. Many members attended a Zoom town hall hosted by state Sen. Zahra Karinshak that included a panel on unemployment insurance with James Williams (IBEW), president of the Atlanta-North Georgia Labor Council, and Denise Beckwith, the unemployment division director of the Georgia State Department of Labor. The council also has worked with Jobs with Justice and many other community partners to provide community support. “We hope that members see our support, look at it with pride and they know they can rely on their union to come through for them,” Sandra Williams said. “People are very thankful, but they’re also fearful for their health.”

With some businesses allowed to reopen in the coming days, James Williams expressed concerns that Gov. Brian Kemp is putting money ahead of people’s safety and health. “Georgia is likely to run out of unemployment funds in the next few months, and this is a way to keep contractors employed,” he explained. If these workers are forced out of work a second time a few weeks from now, their unemployment claims are likely to be denied.

“Last year, we celebrated the 100-year anniversary of my local, Electrical Workers (IBEW) Local 613, and we’ll be around for another hundred years,” James Williams said, looking toward a bright future for the labor movement in the north Georgia region. With volunteering events planned every other week for as long as they are needed, the members of the Atlanta-North Georgia Labor Council will be there to lift up their union family and their community."

The AFL-CIO Executive Council today elected Liz Shuler, a visionary leader and longtime trade unionist, to serve as president of the federation of 56 unions and 12.5 million members. Shuler is the first woman to hold the office in the history of the labor federation. The Executive Council also elected United Steelworkers (USW) International Vice President Fred Redmond to succeed Shuler as secretary-treasurer, the first African American to hold the number two office. Tefere Gebre will continue as executive vice president, rounding out the most diverse team of officers ever to lead the AFL-CIO.

Our brother and leader Richard Trumka passed away on August 5, 2021, at the age of 72.

2020’s growth in pay inequity between workers and CEOs confirms the “executive base salary reductions” touted during the COVID-19 crisis were just lip service, per this year’s AFL-CIO Executive Pay

Some 5,800 workers at Amazon’s warehouse in Bessemer, Alabama, will begin voting today on whether to form a union after the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) denied Amazon’s last-ditch effort to delay the election. Last month, Amazon made a motion to request a stay of the union election for workers at the fulfillment center in Bessemer and appealed the decision by the NLRB Region 10.

On Monday in Alabama, more than 5,800 of them will be able to vote on whether to become the first Amazon warehouse in the United States to unionize. "Now it's our turn to be a disruptor," said Elizabeth Shuler, secretary-treasurer and second highest-ranking officer of the AFL-CIO, the largest federation of unions in the United States. It's a big day for the AFL-CIO. Not only is it providing guidance to the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union, which is organizing the Amazon warehouse workers.

California School Employees Association (CSEA) member Jacob Rodriguez leapt at the chance to join his school district’s information technology department when a position opened up. The only catch was that he was a substitute custodian and didn’t have a college degree yet. “I promised them I’d go back to school to get more qualified,” Rodriguez said. Thanks to the Union Plus Free College Program, Rodriguez was able to complete his associate degree free of charge, graduating in December 2020.

"We are going to insert ourselves at every table,” Shuler said. “If we don’t get workers to the table, there’s going to be more of what Trump tapped into,” she said, in reference to angry voters who feel left behind by globalization. “Training works better when you talk to workers. They can tell you what will and won’t work when automating. We’re not always hostile — we can be collaborators and make it go well,” she said.

Amazon is the great white whale, a target that labor groups have longed for years to organize, said Richard Trumka, president of the AFL-CIO, which is providing personnel and strategic guidance to aid the RWDSU. “We’ll give them whatever they need to help them win,” Trumka said. “It’s an important, important drive.”

Read the full article in the Washington Post.

John Sweeney, who led an era of transformative change in America’s labor movement, passed away Feb. 1 at the age of 86. Sweeney was one of four children born to Irish immigrants in a working-class Bronx neighborhood shortly after the Great Depression. His parents, James and Agnes Sweeney, worked as a bus driver and a domestic worker, respectively. Sweeney always understood the struggles and the pride of working people.

“This pandemic has amplified [public support] even more. It showed how helpless workers are without a union. They couldn’t even get PPE and unions were able to get it for them,” says Trumka. “For years and years and years, people that we call ‘essential workers’ were invisible. It was as if no one knew they existed. They did their jobs every day to keep the country and the economy going.

Major labor leaders like Richard Trumka, president of the AFL-CIO, are more optimistic about the prospects for organized labor than they’ve been in many years. “I know what he is. Joe Biden’s a blue-collar guy,” said Trumka, who like Biden is from a working-class area in Pennsylvania and has known the president for 40 years. “He understands working people, the importance of a paycheck, importance of health and safety on the job, importance of having a union .… He understands all of that. It’s not something he picked up in the polls. It’s what he believes.”