AFL-CIO Executive Vice President Tefere Gebre urged local and retiree council presidents at the closing session of their conference to work with civil rights groups, church members, parents, immigrants, labor councils and foundations to let people know what is happening across America.
“Go to places you’re not expected. Go to community centers,” Gebre said. “Explain to people how between 1997-2008 all of the world’s gains went to the top 10 percent. Ninety percent of us got nothing.” The average CEO in America makes 437 times what the average worker makes, he said. “You can’t find any other country with such a gap.”
With the Supreme Court’s decision this week to lift limits on campaign contributions, labor unions cannot compete financially with the wealthy. The solution, Gebre said, is to build the labor movement with workers and unionists at the local, city and state levels; to join with foundations; to start leadership classes and to have year-round programs.
“Invest in voters, not politicians,” he advised. “We need to sit in the living room of our neighbors and tell them who we are.
“The issues that are facing workers’ families today are big, and the only answer is to be big in return,” said Gebre, who emigrated from war-torn Ethiopia as a teen and began his union career as a night shift loader at UPS and a member of Teamsters Local 396.
“It’s about time we turn America upside down.”