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Leave behind what you know about Robert's Rules of Order and structured union meetings. A new generation of emerging labor leaders across the country is bringing young workers together in paintball games, music festivals, trivia nights and pub crawls—all with an activist edge.
Senior union leaders agree the future of the labor movement depends largely on educating, engaging and preparing younger workers to take the leadership reins. However, many young workers are turned off by what feels like their parents’ and grandparents’ unions.
That's why groups like Washington Young Emerging Labor Leaders (WA YELL) and Greater Boston Labor Council’s (GBLC's) Future Committee are finding creative ways to engage younger workers through traditional activist channels but with a fun twist. For example, WA YELL hosted a Halloween Costume Party Phone Bank and its Ladies Night Phone Bank Mixer with the Fire Fighters (IAFF).
Between cliques, union-specific jargon and Robert's Rules, union meetings are not the greatest fit for young workers, says Allison Doherty of the GBLC Future Committee, Boston’s young workers group, and the AFL-CIO’s national Young Workers Advisory Council. “The issue with the labor movement is that if you aren’t already in the know, you feel like you’re cast out."
When you go to a meeting and they’re talking about PLAs (Project Labor Agreements), you might say, ‘I’m a teacher, what’s a PLA? I’m out of here because I don’t know what they’re talking about.’
AFL-CIO Secretary-Treasurer Elizabeth Shuler, who is leading the union movement’s outreach to young workers, recently told 300 young people at a WA YELL fundraising event in Seattle (hosted by the Society of Professional Engineering Employees in Aerospace [SPEEA], IFPTE Local 2001):
Even when you’re having fun, you don’t have the option to lose sight of your responsibility….You are part of the largest generation to come down the pipeline since the Baby Boomers, and the most diverse and best educated—and you’ll reshape our world as much as the Boomers did. You’re going to do it because you have the imagination, the energy, the organization and, to be perfectly honest, the need….
The future of this labor movement—which will shape the future of the 99%—is on your shoulders. It’s on you.