Taking the Wheel: A New Generation Is Driving the Future of the Labor Movement

Michael Gillis AFL-CIO

Building on the achievements of the past, newly elected union leaders and young workers are spreading optimism across the country. Inspired by the history and mission of the labor movement, a new generation of workers and activists are assuming leadership roles as the ranks of young union workers continue to grow.

Kooper Caraway became the youngest president ever elected at the Sioux Falls Central Labor Council. Even at the age of 27, Caraway already has a lot of union activism under his belt. He is the lead organizer for AFSCME Council 65 for South Dakota and represents nearly 2,000 public employees across the state. He has a strong track record of standing up for the working people of Sioux Falls and has worked tirelessly to improve marginalized communities.

Labor history is not lost on Caraway, and his outlook for the union movement is bright. He maintains a clear vision of his own role moving forward. "The generations of labor leaders that came before us have given us all of the tools and opportunities that we have today," Caraway said. "It’s time for millennials to take the torch, hold it firmly and build a better world for the generations of workers that will come after us."

In La Crosse, Wisconsin, another young leader has emerged. Tyler Tubbs was elected as president of the Western Wisconsin AFL-CIO last month. Tubbs, 26, is a locomotive engineer for BNSF Railway and is an active member of the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen Division 13.

Tubbs is committed to bringing more young workers into the same labor movement that his family has embraced for generations. "For too long, younger folks have distanced themselves from unions, and I feel it is my job to show them the union advantage and help people understand how unions improve the lives of working people and the community at-large," he said. "I am now in a position to apply all that I have learned from those that went before me to help take the labor movement into what I know is a bright and essential future," Tubbs said.

Josette Jaramillo, 36, was elected president of the Colorado AFL-CIO after getting her early start as a member of AFSCME at the Pueblo County Department of Social Services. "Young workers are the future of our movement," Jaramillo said. "By investing in their leadership, we are investing in the longevity of our movement."

The fact that younger activists are taking on leadership roles is reflective of a larger trend in America's labor movement. Young workers continue to drive union growth and, since 2012, union membership among working people under 35 has continued to rise. Last year, they made up 75% of new members, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

One such worker is Keith Cloutier who is employed at American Roots, an all American-made apparel manufacturer in Portland, Maine. At 23, Cloutier is new to the workforce and new to the union movement. He joined United Steelworkers (USW) Local 366 last year. "Becoming a member of USW 366 has given me the opportunity to come together with my brothers and sisters to fight and work toward a better life for more than just myself," he said. "Young workers’ involvement in the labor movement is important because it brings new ideas and new energy, and I am able to learn and grow from those who have walked through the fire."

The AFL-CIO continues to build our Next Up Young Worker Program, which is a place for young people and their unions, progressive allies, students and community groups to join together and work toward social and economic justice. Young worker groups all over the country focus on everything from organizing to policy to politics to change the rules and fight for a better future for all working people.

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Reposted from AFL-CIO

Posted In: Allied Approaches, From AFL-CIO

Union Matters

Get to Know AFL-CIO's Affiliates: National Association of Letter Carriers

From the AFL-CIO

Next up in our series that takes a deeper look at each of our affiliates is the National Association of Letter Carriers.

Name of Union: National Association of Letter Carriers (NALC)

Mission: To unite fraternally all city letter carriers employed by the U.S. Postal Service for their mutual benefit; to obtain and secure rights as employees of the USPS and to strive at all times to promote the safety and the welfare of every member; to strive for the constant improvement of the Postal Service; and for other purposes. NALC is a single-craft union and is the sole collective-bargaining agent for city letter carriers.

Current Leadership of Union: Fredric V. Rolando serves as president of NALC, after being sworn in as the union's 18th president in 2009. Rolando began his career as a letter carrier in 1978 in South Miami before moving to Sarasota in 1984. He was elected president of Branch 2148 in 1988 and served in that role until 1999. In the ensuing years, he worked in various roles for NALC before winning his election as a national officer in 2002, when he was elected director of city delivery. In 2006, he won election as executive vice president. Rolando was re-elected as NALC president in 2010, 2014 and 2018.

Brian Renfroe serves as executive vice president, Lew Drass as vice president, Nicole Rhine as secretary-treasurer, Paul Barner as assistant secretary-treasurer, Christopher Jackson as director of city delivery, Manuel L. Peralta Jr. as director of safety and health, Dan Toth as director of retired members, Stephanie Stewart as director of the Health Benefit Plan and James W. “Jim” Yates as director of life insurance.

Number of Members: 291,000 active and retired letter carriers.

Members Work As: City letter carriers.

Industries Represented: The United States Postal Service.

History: In 1794, the first letter carriers were appointed by Congress as the implementation of the new U.S. Constitution was being put into effect. By the time of the Civil War, free delivery of city mail was established and letter carriers successfully concluded a campaign for the eight-hour workday in 1888. The next year, letter carriers came together in Milwaukee and the National Association of Letter Carriers was formed.

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