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AFL-CIO announces national convention in St. Louis

ST. LOUIS – The AFL-CIO announced that it will be holding its 2017 national convention on October 22-25 at America’s Center Convention Complex in St. Louis. The convention is expected to allow union advocates to strategize for labor reform, under the theme “Join Together. Fight Together. Win Together.” A several hundred people are expected to come to the convention.

“St. Louis is a working people’s town,” says Mike Gillis, spokesperson for the national AFL-CIO. “St. Louis embodies what the labor movement stands for. It was built by working people and still is run by working people today.”

At conventions held every four years, they elect officers to leadership positions as well as delegates from specific job categories based on their policy preferences. They also issue a report summarizing amendments to their constitution, delegates vote on proposed resolutions and release an executive council report which outlines the activities of their president, secretary-treasurer, executive vice president, and other industrial departments.

“This convention is going to be different than other conventions because it is going to be more worker focused and more action focused. There will not be a long list of politicians or celebrities, rather we’re going to hear a lot from our membership, the future of the labor movement,” Gillis noted. “This is a worker-centered convention with an eye toward action.”

The labor union group is comprised of 56 labor unions that represent over 12 million workers and is the largest American federation of unions. The current president is Richard Tumka and has been leading the organization since 2009. Second in command is Liz Shuler, the Secretary-Treasurer, who also was elected in 2009. During the last convention, Tefere Gebre was elected to become the executive vice president, the union’s first immigrant, political refugee, and local labor council leader elected to be a national officer of the AFL-CIO.

Gillis was not aware of any announced candidates running to challenge for any of the executive positions.

Before the convention officially begins, the AFL-CIO will hold registration, conferences on diversity and inclusion, and meetings of the executive council the state federation, and central labor councils. On Sunday, the conference will start with a continental breakfast, an interfaith service, and reception in the evening. Following the interfaith service will be an orientation for new delegates. The first convention day’s main activity is titled “Join Together: A Day of Solidarity.”

The following three days, the conference is expected to begin with registration and end with a reception. Each day they have a convention event at least 5 hours long. Monday’s event is titled “Fight Together: State and Local,” Tuesday’s event is titled, “Fight Together: National,” and the final event is titled “Win Together.”

“One of the things that the labor movement continues to fight against are attacks on working people across the board,” Gillis said. “Whether it’s freedom to negotiate for a better life, our ability to earn a good living or support our family, these things have come under attack in a multitude of ways, in a multitude of places.”

In Missouri, labor unions have been under pressure as the Show-Me State passed right-to-work in February. The next month, a bill that would have repealed the state’s prevailing wage law for public construction projects passed the House. The Missouri legislature also passed SB 43 which raised the standard to prove discrimination based on race, gender, age, or ability in lawsuits and SB 66 which made it more difficult to file a worker’s compensation claim.

“A lot of the participants at the convention are going to do a lot of fieldwork on that issues, including canvassing and phone banking for the campaign to repeal the right-to-work law in Missouri.”

Despite legislative constraints in multiple states, the AFL-CIO has been engaged with expanding its support base. One of the campaign issues for President Tumka has been to reach out to a younger generation, who have seemed disinterested in the labor movement. Additionally, the union advocacy group has seen new organizing activity from emerging industries.

“We’re also engaged in a lot of organizing activity across the country, in industries that have not previously been organized in unions. More and more of them are coming across to do so,” Gillis says. “Unions give them a voice in the workplace on all matters. Whether it be workplace safety or fair compensation or workplace rights. I think more and more people are seeing that a union is the place where you can get your voice in the workplace”

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