59th Texas AFL-CIO COPE Convention
Day 1 Report - Jan. 20, 2018
Texas AFL-CIO President Rick Levy called the convention to order at 10 a.m., with 361 registered delegates, alternates, guests and fraternal members in attendance. For the first time at a convention, Levy read the recently adopted Texas AFL-CIO Code of Conduct statement.
Delegates heard welcome addresses from: Judy Cortez, President of the Austin Central Labor Council; Austin City Council member Delia Garza, a Fire Fighters member; and Travis County Commissioners Court member and long-time civil rights activist Jeff Travillion.
President Levy spoke of “danger” and “potential” in the current political environment on the one-year anniversary of Donald Trump’s presidency. He called for a “bigger, broader, bolder, more expansive, kick-ass labor movement” in Texas that will fight for dignity and justice wherever we go. Levy said the national and Texas labor movements are each battling a “systemic class war on working people” and warned that attacks on Social Security and Medicare are imminent at the national level, with state attacks on the ability of workers to speak up together continuing as well. He said Texas needs to become a state where working people vote in large numbers.
Secretary-Treasurer Montserrat Garibay spoke of her 20-year path to become an American citizen and the importance of comprehensive immigration reform as part of the main equation for labor. “Silence is not an option,” Garibay said. “Love and the courage to speak our truth is.” Garibay spoke of state federation initiatives to broaden workers’ voices, including the Ruth Elllinger Texas Labor Leaders School and the newly formed Women’s Committee of the Texas AFL-CIO.
Delegates delivered a standing ovation for the next speaker, Randy Bryce of the Ironworkers Union, who is challenging U.S. House Speaker Paul Ryan in Wisconsin’s Congressional District 1. Bryce said his candidacy flowed directly from the anti-labor governorship of Scott Walker. Bryce said he has suggested that Ryan become an Ironworker while he takes the congressional seat, but that has met with only partial approval in that other Ironworkers don’t want Ryan working alongside them.
Ironworkers International President Eric Dean said his union’s image is transforming toward diversity through new initiatives, including a maternity leave program that is capturing the attention of women wishing to enter the construction industry and an alliance with other unions under the umbrella of Working Families United. When it comes to politics, Dean said, the Ironworkers will pick their battles, but when they do, they will fight hard: “I say you always want an Ironworker on your team.”
Terry Melvin, President of the Coalition of Black Trade Unionists, delivered a rousing stem-winder of an exhortation to build the vote in Texas. Citing rampant and rising income inequality, Melvin declared, “It isn’t enough that they got it all. They want what little bit we have.” He said it will take all of labor and its allies, voting with one voice, to make change in 2018 and to “send the bastards home.”
Esther Lopez, International Secretary-Treasurer of the United Food and Commercial Workers, thanked delegates for killing a Texas bill that would have required minors, including UFCW members working in the grocery industry, to obtain parental consent to join a union. She denounced the Trump White House’s pronouncements on race, saying, in a translation from the Spanish, “A rooster couldn’t sing it more clearly.” Lopez called for a “throw-down in Texas” for the 2018 elections.
After a lunch break, AFL-CIO Secretary-Treasurer Liz Shuler received a Texas AFL-CIO “Kick-Ass” Award for her shepherding of national resources toward the relief effort after Hurricane Harvey. Shuler presented similar awards to central labor bodies representing the regions in and around Corpus Christi, Houston, Victoria and the Golden Triangle for their efforts in helping union families victimized by the storm. Special awards went to the Workers Assistance Program, along with Terri Ramos and Rachel Cavazos of the United Way in San Antonio, for their role in the relief effort. And Texas AFL-CIO Director of Human Relations Lee Forbes received a plaque for coordinating a state federation relief program that raised upwards of $700,000.
In a panel moderated by Secretary-Treasurer Garibay, Shuler joined State Reps. Nicole Collier, D-Fort Worth, Ina Minjarez, D-San Antonio, and Carol Alvarado, D-Houston, in discussing barriers women must overcome in the political arena. Shuler noted studies suggesting women need to be asked to run for office seven times before they accept. She suggested the best remedy for inequality in the workplace remains labor unions. Collier said the Texas Legislature has had about 6,000 men in its history as against some 150 women, but the ratio is changing as women take paths to power. Minjarez and Collier each suggested major themes in fighting harassment in the Legislature are strength in numbers and real consequences for misbehavior.
President Levy moderated a gubernatorial forum featuring Democratic gubernatorial candidates Lupe Valdez and Andrew White. Levy said the two candidates were chosen from among nine Democrats by the Executive Board. He added that Gov. Greg Abbott was not invited: “I can’t think of one thing he would say to overcome all that he has done.” The candidates each drew positive attention in a wide-ranging discussion that included questions from delegates on the minimum wage, the rights of public employees to unionize, the ability to run and win a campaign on a fraction of Abbott’s war chest, charter schools and vouchers, immigration and SB 4, infrastructure, efforts to preempt progressive local ordinances and even gun safety. Each candidate expressed strong support for union apprenticeship programs as job-training initiatives.
Delegates adjourned to workshops and attended the Texas AFL-CIO COPE induction of Linda Bridges, Clara Caldwell and Rick Diegel into the Texas Labor Hall of Fame.
Day 2 Report - Jan. 21, 2018
President Levy gaveled the convention to order at 9 a.m. Attendance had grown to 436 delegates, alternates, guests and fraternal members.
Philip Kingston, a member of the Dallas City Council, discussed progressive ordinances the city has approved that tend to produce “labor peace,” including rest breaks for construction employees and other matters that are not part of state law. At the same time, Kingston said, state leaders are trying to restrict the ability of cities to make progress, a situation that played out in preemption battles during last year’s legislative session. Kingston criticized the notion that state leaders who complain regularly about intrusion by the federal government would seek to dictate what local communities can do through their elected officials.
Volunteers for the convention and the Texas AFL-CIO staff were recognized on stage. Texas AFL-CIO Digital Strategist Mark Maldonado walked delegates and guests through a brief texting exercise that for the first time connected many in attendance to the state labor federation when mobilization is needed. Texas AFL-CIO Director of Campaigns Jeff Rotkoff discussed campaign strategies that will enable working people to make a decisive difference in 2018. Rotkoff suggested the reach of delegates can expand as the number of mobilized union members, retirees and allies grows.
Delegates unanimously approved five resolutions that: elevate the Texas AFL-CIO Women’s Committee, which was given a mission of training women to advance and enter leadership positions in the labor movement; elevate the role of the state labor federation and our affiliates in conducting or assisting in citizenship drives that help eligible residents go through the naturalization process and, it is hoped, get to the polls; demand a new NAFTA that honors workplace rights and allows continuation of “Buy American” laws; pronounce political opposition to candidates, Democratic or Republican, who engage in union-busting in their professional careers; and insist on independent political participation that works across communities to build “a new generation of elected officials who share our aspirations.”
Former Texas AFL-CIO President Becky Moeller delivered the “COPE pitch,” asking delegates to contribute to the Texas AFL-CIO COPE Fund, which is used to make contributions to labor-endorsed candidates.
Delegates broke into regional and central body work sessions to discuss strategies for the upcoming campaign season.
The convention then recessed to allow the Texas AFL-CIO COPE Committee to meet. Upon return, delegates debated the COPE report , amending it to make endorsements of Veronica Escobar in Congressional District 16 and State Rep. Mary Gonzalez for reelection in Texas House District 75. Those endorsements were specifically incorporated into the COPE report at the request of El Paso delegates because the Central Labor Council for technical reasons had been unable to act.
The COPE Report, which includes statewide endorsements and acceptance of legislative and congressional recommendations made by labor bodies around the state, then received final approval.
Delegates sang “Solidarity Forever” and the convention adjourned.