As union members get ready for the 2009 AFL-CIO Convention, Pride At Work (PAW), an AFL-CIO constituency group, is among several union-related organizations meeting in Pittsburgh to plan for the future.
It's the 10th anniversary for PAW as an official constituency group of the AFL-CIO. PAW focuses on the needs of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgendered (LGBT) workers. Co-president Nancy Wohlforth said this morning that she'd never have believed how far the organization would come and how much they'd be able to accomplish-but that there are still many challenges ahead.
Wohlforth, who will step down this year as co-president, said PAW members have proven themselves a valuable asset in working family campaigns across the union movement and, in turn, they've been able to make great strides in educating and assisting unions about LGBT issues. Thanks to the efforts of PAW, unions across the country are making sure that contracts offer nondiscrimination provisions, as well as health and pension benefits for domestic partners. Unions also are stepping up to fight for equality not just in the workplace, but in state policy.
Now that we have a new administration in the White House, Wohlforth said, we need to work even harder to pass bills at the national level that protect all workers, like the Employment Non-Discrimination Act. PAW will need to mobilize to make sure Congress takes action on these bills and gets them to President Barack Obama's desk:
We have an opportunity right now-we can't just do business as usual. We can change millions of workers' lives if we work on a national level.
We can increase our influence by being active in our central labor councils and state federations, by getting out there on other people's picket lines and by designing our ideas in ways people will understand.
We're in this because we really care about making changes in people's lives.
T Santora, PAW's other co-president, said he's proud to have been involved in building the strength of PAW and connecting the union movement and the LGBT movement. He agreed we can't just sit back because we helped Obama win the election-we need to create the environment that will allow a positive agenda for workers to pass Congress. There's potential for real change, Santora said, but it has been unrealized.
As a sign of how far the union movement and the LGBT movement have come over the past decade, PAW Executive Director Jeremy Bishop will be heading to the Department of Labor for a job as a special assistant. Bishop, who was recognized this morning for his years of service to PAW, said he hopes to continue to fight for real improvements in the lives of all workers:
We're all fighting for the same thing-we all need respect on the job and we all need to be treated with equality and dignity.
Jim Gillis, an AFSCME retiree from Rhode Island, said he's interested in what Pride At Work has done in relation to pensions and health care:
I'm here at the Pride At Work convention because there may be some things I can bring back to District 94. We have a lot of gay and lesbian retirees (see video).
Over today and tomorrow, the dozens of union members attending the PAW convention will elect new officers and do in-depth strategic planning to strengthen the ties between the LGBT movement and the union movement.