Solidarity Abounds at Labor’s 2011 Joint Legislative Conference

Although the official theme of this year’s California Labor Joint Legislative Conference was “Jobs-Justice-Prosperity,” the conference also took on an unofficial theme, “We Are One.” From Wisconsin to Tunisia to Costa Mesa, California, the notion of national and international solidarity with workers under attack quickly surfaced as the leading issue of the conference.

Bryan Kennedy, president of American Federation of Teachers-Wisconsin, joined the about 700 conference attendees in Sacramento to share inspiring words from the front lines in the fight for workers’ rights:

When Gov. Walker attacks collective bargaining, he's not just attacking the people- he's attacking our state's history and values. Remember that when you make a fist and hold it up in solidarity, it's in the shape of the state of Wisconsin.

(Thanks to the generosity of our attendees, we raised more than $4,700 to send back to the Wisconsin AFL-CIO. But those workers still need all the help they can get for the long battle ahead — Find out how you can donate at www.standwisconsin.org.)

AFT’s Kennedy wasn’t the only one to travel a great distance to join the legislative conference and share a message of solidarity. Three labor leaders from Tunisia, who played a pivotal role in the Tunisian revolution in January, travelled half-way around the world to share their remarkable story and learn about our own issues and struggles.

One of those struggles is happening right now in Costa Mesa, where the City Council is attempting to fire most of the city’s union workers and outsource their jobs to private companies.  Last week, 50% of Costa Mesa’s workers received pink slips, and one grief-stricken worker jumped off City Hall and took his own life. Orange County Employees Association’s Nick Berardino addressed the conference about this tragedy, and about the broad-reaching effects of privatizing an entire city.

The GOP believes they can take California, city by city. Starting with Costa Mesa.

The morning plenary featured inspiring speeches from Senate President Darrell Steinberg, Assembly Speaker John Perez, Senate Labor Committee Chair Ted Lieu and Assembly Labor Committee Chair Sandre Swanson. The legislators all laid heavy emphasis on the importance of Governor Brown’s plan to give Californians a voice on the budget by putting a measure to extend the current tax rates on the ballot in June.

Assembly Speaker John Perez:

The budget has got to be a collective expression of our values as people and Californians. This is a genuine and historic opportunity to come together and take control of California's finances. I believe Californians deserve the opportunity to weigh in on tax extensions, and we will get it on the ballot!

New Labor Secretary Marty Morganstern made a special appearance with new Labor Commissioner Julie Su, and actually administered the official oath of office to Su right there at the conference — a rare and unexpected treat for the attendees.

At lunch, Attorney General Kamala Harris’ keynote speech demonstrated how in sync her values are with the values of the labor movement.

In the face of crisis, Labor has always seen opportunity. Now is the time when we face a new challenge, and a new opportunity. Fighting for our rights is, just as a matter of nature, something we will keep having to do. It's the nature of democracy. But when it comes to the voice of labor, California is the strongest. And we'll do what's necessary to ensure that justice prevails.

The afternoon was filled with a wealth of workshops, and attendees had ample opportunities to learn more about the issues that matter most to workers, including job creation, the state budget, advancing the right to organize and more.

At the annual awards dinner on Monday evening, Governor Jerry Brown was the man of the hour. Brown’s energetic and no-nonsense speech left attendees enthused and excited about his plan to allow Californians to vote on extending taxes. As Brown spoke, the crowd erupted in a chant of “Let Us Vote! Let Us Vote!” in reference to the GOP legislators that refuse to allow California voters to have a say on our state’s financial future.

Brown’s message to GOP obstructionists:

If you're not going to do anything, then why take a paycheck? This is California of the people, by the people and for the people – NOT the legislators that answer only to themselves! We The People are taking California back!

The conference attendees carried that message over to the Capitol on Tuesday, where they dropped in on their legislators to urge them to support Brown’s special election, as well as the numerous labor-sponsored bills that support workers and their jobs.  Learn more about Labor's legislative priorities for 2011.