Labor’s 2015 Legislative Conference Highlights how Unions Change Lives

Yesterday, Labor’s annual Joint Legislative Conference, sponsored by the California Labor Federation and State Building and Construction Trades Council, brought together more than 500 union leaders, representatives, and activists from all over the state to plan and execute a shared agenda for the good of all working families. While there were many phenomenal speakers throughout the day during plenary, lunch and dinner, conference attendees agreed: the workers who were able to tell their story stole the show.

This year workers from several different backgrounds were included in the program to talk about how standing with their fellow workers changed their lives for the better.

Guadalupe Salazar, a single mother of three with the Fight for $15 movement, spoke from the heart about her experiences:

Before the minimum wage increase we won in Oakland went through, I struggled to pay the rent every month and often had to choose between paying bills and buying necessities. I’ve been hungry and not able to buy food, let alone go to the movies or do something simple and fun with my children. But this month was the first month I could pay rent and have a few extra dollars because I am now earning $12.25 per hour.

She also emphasized the intimidation millions of workers are facing as they fight for union representation:

Don't take having a union for granted. There's many of us fighting to join a union. We are fighting so much for a contract and we still don't have it.  I've been discriminated against, I've been yelled at. But my union has come to fight for me. Now I want a contract.  Come and join us!

Eric Martinez, an apprentice with Operating Engineers Local 3, joined us for the dinner program and told his story about how the apprenticeship program helped to turn his life around:

“I'm proud of the opportunities Local 3 has given me. The union is not just a job, it's a career. It's financial stability for the first time in my life. It's helped me realize that I can be better person, be a taxpayer, and not be on the outside of my community. I feel with my brothers and sisters help I can accomplish anything I put my mind to.”

You can read more about Eric’s inspiring story here on page 11.

These are just two of the many inspiring stories shared throughout the day!

Attendees were also in for a treat with our speakers including Congressman George Miller, Attorney General Kamala Harris, and Governor Jerry Brown.

At lunch, Rep. Miller, who retired last year, was presented with a special award – a union-made Louisville Slugger bat – for his tireless efforts over decades in Congress to go to bat for working people. Miller looked back over his distinguished career in Congress during his acceptance speech but also looked ahead noting the importance of electing Assemblywoman Susan Bonilla in her Senate District 7 race against anti-worker candidate Steve Glazer.

In her keynote speech at lunch, Attorney General Harris highlighted her role in the $18 billion foreclosure settlement with the big banks and the anti-foreclosure “Homeowners Bill of Rights” legislation. She went on to reaffirm her commitment to looking out for working families in California:

Working men and women deserve dignity for working hard and believing in the American dream. Everybody wants to be able to work, feed their families, send their kids to school, and retire with dignity. I’m committed to making that a reality for all Californians.

Governor Jerry Brown headlined the dinner program and echoed sentiments from Eric earlier in the program. Brown spent much of his speech highlighting the importance of apprenticeship programs for young people in California:

Apprenticeships are a great model because a young person can work and get paid instead of taking out loans that will take them a lifetime to pay off. This model could and should work across industries. I want the system to work for people instead of people working for the system.

Brown brought the crowd to its feet noting that California won’t allow for the same kinds of attacks on workers we’ve seen in other states:

California has to be the place where organized labor is strong and grows.

On top the incredible speakers program throughout the day, conference attendees also attended briefings on a variety of worker-related issues ranging from the quality education to containing healthcare costs and using state laws to organize.

During the day attendees also heard from legislative leaders including Senate President Kevin de León, Assembly Speaker Toni Atkins, Assembly Labor Chair Roger Hernández, and Senator Connie Leyva. All highlighted legislation that will help to improve the lives of and protect workers like Eric and Guadalupe.

Today is the last day of the conference, and attendees have been participating in our Legislative Lobby Day, where they have the opportunity to talk face-to-face with the legislators and staffers on Labor’s 2015 Legislative agenda.

For more highlights from the conference, visit our Twitter page and search our conference hashtag: #CALabor15.