Yesterday Huffington Post published an article profiling the newly elected AFL-CIO Executive Vice President Tefere Gebre. Due to his organizing success in the heart of Republican dominated Orange County, Gebre became the first immigrant elected to the position of AFL-CIO Executive Vice President in September 2013.
Now I know that the mere mention of Tefere will send my colleague Dan into a frothy frenzy—demanding an apology for Gebre’s blunt reflection on primary election eve 2012 directed towards then Assemblyman Jose Solorio. While everyone else has moved on, Dan will never forgive Gebre for his “dead-to-me” quote. Gebre, to this day, stands by his remark that night. He, along with many in organized labor in Orange County, has become disillusioned with politicians who come begging for money and support—pledging to fight for the interests of working men and women—and then turning their backs on their supporters once elected to actively oppose their legislative proposals at every turn. Gebre in his criticism has claimed that Solorio would actively oppose labor-backed initiatives in committee, in some cases successfully killing the proposals as committee chairman, and then voting in favor if the legislation made it to the floor of the Assembly. Such tactics allow legislators to be recorded as supportive, thus preserving the appearance of a pro-labor voting record. But as I said at the beginning of this paragraph, most people have moved on. Note to Dan: No apology from Tefere should be expected.
My reason for pointing out the article in Huffington Post is to highlight what Tefere Gebre’s rise to the second highest office in the AFL-CIO means to the future of organized labor on a national level.
From the article:
To many at the AFL-CIO, Gebre is more than just a rising star in the labor world. His arrival, they suggest, represents a generational and philosophical change at the federation – one that values new progressive partnerships and non-traditional organizing, and one that its leaders hope will rejuvenate a labor movement that’s been contracting for years.
“Do I understand the symbolism of my being here? Yes, I do. I have no problem with it,” said Gebre, who replaced Arlene Holt Baker, the first African-American to hold an executive post. “I’m here to help build a labor movement. Even more than that, I’m here to make sure that the America I dreamed about when I immigrated to this country is going to be around for generations to come.”
Gebre earned his new office in large part because of what he pulled off in Southern California after his stint in the bowels of the AFL-CIO building. As the director of the Orange County Labor Federation, Gebre helped turn the umbrella group of unions into a political force in what remains Republican territory. It was an unlikely place for the labor movement to build its strength. “If you looked at the voter registration figures, you would say, ‘How the hell is this happening?’” he said.
One liberal Orange County blogger credited Gebre with transforming the federation “from an afterthought between Los Angeles and San Diego to a model of organization and labor strength throughout the state.”
When it comes to standards for elected officials seeking support from the AFL-CIO, Gebre is bringing tools forged in Orange county to use on a national level.
Gebre argued that progressives need to hold Democrats who seek office in Washington to a higher standard. Back in Orange County, Gebre’s federation requires candidates who want its endorsement to undergo a five-hour course on labor from workers’ perspective. Any candidate who doesn’t complete it doesn’t get the federation’s blessing, Gebre said. (Sample lesson: Subcontracting work often leads to less pay and fewer benefits for workers.)
At any rate, the article paints a hopeful profile of new leadership and strategies that were developed locally in Orange County, that will drive the future of the labor movement nationally. Read the complete article here.