´╗┐February 2012

Reaching Out and Revving Up for 2012
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When Vanessa Hayes, a 32-year Verizon network technician and member of East Windsor, N.J., Local 827, flew to Phoenix in November for a symposium of the AFL-CIO's constituency organizations, she hadn't expected to be alarmed by the speakers on the podium. But Hayes, secretary of the Essex County Chapter of the A. Philip Randolph Institute, says she was troubled by information about growing moves by right-wing politicians to restrict voting rights in many states.

"Before the Phoenix meeting," says Hayes, "I didn't know about the frontal attack by politicians in many states who are proposing changes that would depress the vote in 2012 and help them steal the election. It's scary, but it fired me up. I've been to a lot of conferences, but this was the only one where we couldn't leave the workshops without having a working plan for what we would do when we get home."

IBEW members played an important role in planning the meeting, entitled "We Are One Moving America Forward," and setting the groups' direction for the epic presidential and congressional elections of 2012.

Hayes says she was also moved by speakers who warned delegates not to fall for tactics that would put wedges between the diverse membership of the labor movement, particularly pitting black and Hispanic workers against each other.

The gathering showcased the necessity and power of reaching out to diverse communities to defend collective bargaining and community needs as a step toward building stronger coalitions. Constituency groups of the AFL-CIO include: The Coalition of Black Trade Unionists, A. Philip Randolph Institute, Pride At Work, Coalition of Labor Union Women, Asian Pacific American Labor Alliance and the Labor Council for Latin American Advancement.

Petee Talley, secretary-treasurer of the Ohio AFL-CIO, said that the recent successful campaign in Ohio to overturn a bill that would restrict collective bargaining rights demonstrates the need to reach far beyond the labor community.

When the campaign against Senate Bill 5 began, Talley reported, it was marked by a lack of diversity. However, after extensive polling and research, it became clear that the people who would be most hurt by curtailing bargaining would be low-income and African American communities. So Talley began to put together a community-based coalition to start phone banking, petition gathering and hosting telephone-based town hall meetings to get them engaged in the process.

Election Day exit polls showed that 61 percent of voters voted to repeal SB 5. But, of those who turned out, an impressive 93 percent of African Americans voted for repeal.

"Building coalitions with groups and individuals in our surrounding communities was one of the main themes of the IBEW Convention in Vancouver," said IBEW Director of Human Services Carolyn Williams. "The experience of unions in Ohio, including IBEW locals, in bringing the campaign to defend collective bargaining to every corner of the state's communities was a key ingredient in a winning strategy."

Michael Joyner, a journeyman wireman and 14-year member of Nashville Local 429, attended the symposium with organizer James Shaw. Says Joyner, "We cannot wait until this summer to get the vote out and register all of the new people who will be of age before then, or who don't vote."

Joyner says he looks forward to working with his local leaders to link up with other unions in the Nashville area to communicate about their plans for the election early in 2012.

Hayes says the meeting ended with delegates taking to the streets to visit the Occupy Phoenix encampment. Some of the young Occupy Phoenix activists came back to the symposium's host hotel. There, they met with Bill Lucy, one of the main speakers at the meeting. Lucy, the Secretary-Treasurer Emeritus of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, collaborated with Dr. Martin Luther King during the 1968 Memphis sanitation strike and founded the Coalition of Black Trade Unionists.

"It was an honor to be in the same room with Mr. Lucy," says Hayes. "Here's a man who shaped history. But he spoke with the young people as long as they wanted to talk. Our causes are linked and they are now more engaged in civil rights history and labor history."

The symposium was hosted by the Arizona AFL-CIO, led by Executive Director/Secretary-Treasurer Rebekah Friend, a member of Phoenix Local 387.

The AFL-CIO convened the meeting in Phoenix to help call attention to the actions of Gov. Jan Brewer, who has forced changes in immigration law that would divide workers and lead to racial profiling, mostly of Hispanic residents.

"I hope we dispelled some myths about Arizona," says Friend. "Like in most places, there are a lot of good people here making a difference, doing good work. That work includes the recent successful recall of Russell Pearce, one of the worst state senators in the U.S."

Frederick Simmons, a journeyman wireman member of Seattle Local 46 and a member of the Electrical Workers Minority Caucus, worked four years as a journeyman before encountering another black electrician on the job. His local has since made a commitment to diversity and inclusion in apprenticeship training and in other units of the union. "We have offered our hall for community events free of charge. We are charitable in giving to organizations whose goals include lifting people out of poverty. And our opinions on labor issues in the city, county and state legislatures are well respected," adds Simmons.

In Phoenix visiting an Occupy encampment during an AFL-CIO constituency groups meeting are Vanessa Hayes, East Windsor, N.J., Local 827, left; Carolyn Williams, director, IBEW Human Services Department; James Shaw, Nashville, Tenn., Local 429; Fred Simmons, Seattle Local 46 and Michael Joyner, Local 429.