California Labor Convention Builds Power for Workers

, California Labor Federation

Union democracy really is an awesome thing to behold. This week, the California Labor Federation held its biennial convention in San Diego, with union delegates setting the course for Labor this year and beyond. The theme: building power by standing together. At its core, that’s what the labor movement is all about. Building economic power by giving workers the opportunity to stand together to bargain for fair wages and decent benefits and building political power by mobilizing in force to elect worker-friendly candidates to office.

The first day of the convention was focused on economic power through organizing. We heard a powerful speech from SEIU President Mary Kay Henry, who talked about the labor movement’s role in giving fast-food workers, child care workers and other low-wage workers a fair shot at the American Dream. And in the evening, UNITE HERE! President D. Taylor delivered a rousing and inspiring keynote speech about the need for Labor to organize, no matter the odds against us.

Delegates spent a good part of Day 1 learning about California Labor’s All in to Win organizing effort, a statewide campaign to support key organizing drives. Action sessions detailed three campaigns that are building power for workers: UFCW’s OUR Walmart, the Teamsters effort to give Taylor Farms workers in the Central Valley a voice on the job, and the organizing effort of security guards at tech giants Apple and Google through SEIU-USWW.

In his morning speech kicking off convention, California Labor Federation Executive Secretary-Treasurer Art Pulaski noted a recent study that showed the United States has become an oligarchy, ruled by powerful business elites instead of the masses. But, Pulaski said, working people are fighting back.

We may be living under an oligarchy, but democracy never dies. We’re holding the line here in California. Democracy doesn’t die because we are its foundation. Workers standing together. All in to Win, together.

Day 2 was all about building political power.

Delegates overwhelmingly voted to endorse Gov. Brown for another term, citing his longstanding support of workers and his stewardship of California’s economic comeback. In addition to the Governor’s race, delegates prioritized electing worker-friendly candidates to all other statewide constitutional offices, emulating the “clean sweep” of pro-worker victories Labor helped deliver two years ago. 

Delegates vowed to mobilize record numbers of volunteers to counter the onslaught of corporate cash that will inundate state legislative and congressional campaigns this election season.

In addition to the governor’s race, delegates identified supporting Tom Torlakson’s re-election to State Superintendent of Public Instruction and Betty Yee for State Controller as top priorities. Both Torlakson and Yee are expected to see significant amount of corporate campaign cash against them in their races.

Federation delegates took up all initiatives that will appear on the November ballot. The Federation remains neutral on Prop 44, Prop 45 and Prop 46. The Federation endorsed Prop 47, Prop 48 and Prop 49. A vote on Prop 43 was deferred to a later date.

The California Labor Federation detailed its grassroots election plan at the convention. The campaign focuses on targeted person-to-person contact, relying on thousands of union volunteers to communicate with millions of voters across the state about the importance of this election to the daily lives of workers. The Labor Federation and affiliate unions will mobilize an army of more than 30,000 volunteers this summer and fall, which will contact voters at worksites, on the phone, at the door and online.

For a full list of endorsements on candidate races, click here.