Working People Stand Together at the 2016 Biennial Convention in Oakland

On Tuesday, July 12, Oakland’s own Allen Temple Gospel Choir kicked off California Labor’s 2016 Biennial Convention, followed by the presentation of colors by the Oakland Fire Fighters Local 55. Workers with the Bakery, Confectionary, Tobacco Workers and Grain Millers International Union Local 300 out of Chicago led the Pledge of Allegiance and later shared information about the AFL-CIO endorsed national boycott on Nabisco/Mondelez products made in Mexico. They shared the website where delegates can learn more: FightForAmericanJobs.Org.

Reverend Smith of the Allen Temple Baptist Church gave a rousing invocation and highlighted the power of working people and their unions saying, “Let us working people stand strong together to ensure we have the rights to collectively organize.”   Following the invocation, Josie Camacho of the Alameda Central Labor Council delivered the Union Welcome to Oakland.

Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf welcomed delegates to her city with: “Welcome to Oakland! A UNION TOWN!” and later said “Oakland, like the labor movement, is about coming together and about never giving up on the fight for social justice.”

California Labor Federation President Kathryn Lybarger delivered an inspiring address to delegates, calling attention to the impact of the union difference in California: a healthy economy and the strongest worker protections in the nation saying, “California has shown what working people can do when we stand together” before introducing American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) President Lee Saunders.

AFSCME President Saunders rallied the crowd with an enthusiastic speech, jam-packed with calls for folks to get energized about organizing “We need to get serious about strengthening our unions. We have to work with our community allies. We have to emphasize internal and external organizing.” He also added, “We must continue to innovate, unafraid to embrace new models and strategies”

Executive Secretary-Treasurer Art Pulaski focused on the source of labor’s power: union members! “When we stand together, our members will beat the other side – whether it’s big oil, charter schools, or Pharma every time. The biggest victories, best victories, come from our members. At the worksite, in the Capitol, and at the ballot box.”

Following his speech, delegates voted to reelect Art Pulaski as Executive Secretary-Treasurer and Kathryn Lybarger as President of the California Labor Federation. Following these reelections, delegates nominated and elected 23 Regional Vice Presidents and 23 At-Large Vice Presidents. Vice President Emeritus William Waggoner led the joyous swearing in of new officers. Delegates also approved the location of the 2020 Biennial Host City: the Bay Area (following the 2018 Biennial in Los Angeles).

For lunch, Secretary of State Alex Padilla joined delegates as keynote speaker and detailed his agenda to improve voting rights for all.

After lunch, delegates convened to recognize the incredible organizing victories won by working people in California over the past two years and celebrate “All in to Win” Organizing awards. Jacques Loveall, President of UFCW 8-Golden State,  Julio Perez, Executive Director of the Orange County Labor Federation, and Johanna Hester, Organizing Director of United Domestic Workers and National President of the Asian Pacific American Labor Alliance recognized organizing accomplishments for nearly 100 unions. Delegates then heard from Security Officers in the Silicon Valley who had just recently got involved in their union, the SEIU-United Service Workers West (USWW) as well as Tracy Kelly, a Compass Shuttle Driver for Yahoo who helped organize workers with Teamsters Local 853. Mike Casey, President of UNITE HERE Local 2 closed the session. SEIU-UHW and Teamsters Local 856 accepted awards for the most new workers organized and United Domestic Workers of America, AFSCME Local 3930 won the award for public sector internal organizing.

After the Organizing awards, delegates heard from labor leaders about Building Legislative Power. Mike Casey discussed the SB 1010 fight at the Capitol against Big Pharma and Tom Runnion, Vice President for CWA District 9 shared a major legislative victory over AT&T’s attempt to deregulate the telecommunications industry.

At 3 pm, SEIU 721 President and Federation Vice President Bob Schoonover kicked off the Working People’s Townhall with Kamala Harris, an hour-long dialogue with the current Attorney General and U.S. Senate candidate on some of the most pressing issues facing workers today. Three workers joined Harris on stage: David Kimbrough, a worker at Taylor Farms in Tracy who has been fighting to join a union with his co-workers, Madison Hull, a member of the International Union of Painters and Allied Trades, and Regina Whitney of SEIU 1000. After a thoughtful dialogue with the workers, Harris took a dozen questions from delegates on a range of important issues. Harris noted that she opposes the job-killing Trans-Pacific Partnership and told the audience that “It is TIME we pass comprehensive immigration reform!”

In between the town hall and dinner, delegates and guests took photos in the Union Strong Photo Booth (check out some of the highlights on our Facebook page here) and had the option to pick up custom poster prints from the San Francisco Poster Syndicate.

The convention dinner featured keynote speaker SAG-AFTRA President Gabrielle Carteris and a lifetime achievement honoree recipient Dolores Huerta as well as special recognition for retiring Federation Vice Presidents Shelley Kessler and William Waggoner.

The evening kicked off with Executive Secretary-Treasurer Pulaski honoring Kessler for her years of service to the labor movement and social justice. In his speech, Vice President emeritus Waggoner spoke of his years in service to unions and the importance of the unified labor movement.

In the keynote speech, SAG-AFTRA President Gabrielle Carteris gave a rousing address highlighting the role unions played in protecting her future and praised the California labor movement for being a last line of defense for working people. “Organizing is the lifeblood of our union,” she said.

Dolores Huerta, who received the Federation’s Lifetime Award for her extraordinary – and ongoing – career organizing workers and building movements for social justice, was introduced by Federation Vice President Rome Aloise. Huerta gave a spirited speech about labor unity and the importance of reaching out to other progressive movements to build power for workers, touching on her iconic history of organizing farmworkers and supporting progressive causes.

“I truly believe working people, organized labor, we are the soul of the nation,” Huerta said.

The dinner concluded with SEIU USWW President David Huerta presenting awards to all the unions that helped in the “All in to Win” organizing program with the successful SEIU USWW’s Silicon Valley Blitz. 13 unions and CLCs received special recognition for taking part in the blitz.

On Tuesday delegates heard from AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka, who gave a thunderous speech and noted California Labor’s trailblazing role to the national labor movement, saying “The strength of California’s labor movement didn’t just happen. You made it happen…Keep leading the way. Keep blazing the trail forward for the rest of us. No body plays offense like California plays offense.”

After adjourning the Biennial Convention, delegates opened the COPE Convention to vote on endorsements for the 2016 General Election. You can see the full list of endorsements here and read the California Labor Federation’s statement here.

And follow some of the action on Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook with hashtag #CAUnionStrong