Delegates at the AFL-CIO’s quadrennial convention elected Tefere Gebre as the AFL-CIO’s new executive vice president this afternoon. Gebre was nominated to succeed Arlene Holt Baker after she announced her retirement in July.
Gebre’s election signifies a generational shift in leadership as the labor movement increases its outreach to immigrants and young workers. Gebre is 45 years old and an Ethiopian political refugee who immigrated to the United States as a teenager.
Tefere talked about his childhood during his acceptance speech:
Thirty years ago, as a 14-year-old Ethiopian child, not only did I dream of America, I started a journey to live out my dreams. That’s when a few other friends and I decided to escape the horrors of war and a brutal military government and walked for weeks across the desert to the Sudan. I lived in a Sudanese refugee camp, until I was given a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to come to America as a political refugee. At the tender age of 15, I started a brand-new life in this city of angels....This is not just my story. It’s a story of millions who proudly call America home. Documented or undocumented, the immigrant story is what makes this country of ours so special.
In high school, Gebre worked a full-time job in a liquor store, getting paid cash under the table, studying to be the best student he could be and trying every sport possible in hopes of getting an athletic scholarship, which he did. A track standout at Cal Poly Pomona, Tefere worked his first union job while in college as a night shift loader at UPS as a member of Teamsters Local 396.
That’s where I got a chance to work my first union job, a job where my rights at work were respected. Where I learned I had a protective shield called collective bargaining.
Gebre has dedicated his life to advocating for unions and improving the lives of working families. Prior to his election, Gebre served as the executive director of the Orange County Labor Federation in California, which represents more than 90 local unions with a total membership of more than 140,000 working men and women. During his tenure, the federation has grown by 15,000 members and become a model of innovation, leadership and organization. Gebre also has been actively involved in the national labor movement as the vice chair of the Community Partnerships and Grassroots Action Committee at the 2013 convention.
Previously, he also has served as the director of government relations for Laborers (LIUNA) Local 270 and the executive director of Frontlash, the youth and college arm of the labor movement. He also was twice elected the president of the California Young Democrats and served as an aide to the former speaker of the California General Assembly, Willie Brown.
Brothers and sisters, I am ready to work. With Rich and Liz, I am ready to work for an America that I dreamed of. For an America that values work and honors those who do the work....This is not about me. It’s a call from a new labor movement, unmistakably saying no matter what your accent, no matter what your skin color, no matter how far from here you were born, come not only to join our movement, but lead it.
Follow Gebre on Twitter at @Tefere_Gebre.