PITTSBURGH—In a long day of debate and discussion on Wednesday, convention delegates considered resolutions on women’s, LGBTQ+ and immigrant rights, a just economy for all and public education, and defending civil liberties.
Speaking on the resolution “End Discrimination Based on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity,” UE Local 506 President Scott Slawson pointed out that UE has one of the only constitutions in the American labor movement that has never had to be changed to comply with anti-discrimination laws, because UE has always been against discrimination of any type.
“If you listen to the last three resolutions,” he said (referring also to the resolutions “Fight Racism” and “The Battle for Equal Women’s Rights”), “they all say the same thing. … They want to keep us divided, they want to keep us separate, they want to keep us fighting amongst each other. And that is not what we are about. We need to fight together.”
Ramona Malczynski, Local 1466, pointed out that anti-LGBTQ hate serves the purposes of the bosses and corporations. “They want us to think that queer people are our enemy, but we know that it’s the corporations, the bosses, and the ruling class that keep us distracted and keep us down.”
During discussion of the women’s rights resolution, Courtney Minnis, Local 506, rose to declare that “We need to demand gender equality.” Sekia Royall, Local 150, added that “the attack on women, the attack on black and brown women, has gone on for far too long.”
Many delegates, both women and men, spoke about the injustice of employers giving workers attendance points for leaving work to care for their children. Ricky Steele, Local 506, said, “We have to stand against these companies for women who leave work to see about their children,” and Minnis pointed out that studies have shown that women are disproportionately called by schools — even when the father is listed as the primary parent to call.
As the convention considered the resolution “Stand Up for the Rights of Immigrant Workers,” Tobias Pace, Local 808, told his fellow delegates, “The immigration system is far more broken than you think is it.” Pace and his co-workers process visa applications for the federal government, and he decried the “boxes full of paperwork” and “all the bureaucratic hoops” that immigrants have to go through to enter and remain in the country “legally.”
Hannah Melick, Local 1498, said that at New Mexico State University, “A lot of our students cross the border daily.” She also said that in her local, which represents graduate workers, “So many of our most mistreated workers are international graduate students … If they don’t comply with the advisors they can easily just be dismissed” and forced to return to their home country.
“Making sure that we’re bringing everybody with us and leaving nobody behind”
The resolution “A Just Economy for All” prompted numerous delegates to rise to speak to the importance of raising the minimum wage, shortening the work week, ensuring that all workers have an adequate retirement, and providing assistance to workers who lose their jobs due to plant closings. Josh Reuter, Local 123, pointed out that “it’s impossible to have a just economy if it’s run by” the “criminal, corrupt” federal reserve system.
Scott Slawson, Local 506, spoke about the importance of a just transition for workers whose livelihood is based on the coal and fossil fuel industries, and cited a recent report which found that building green locomotives in Erie could create up to ten thousand jobs across the country. “It’s about making sure that we’re bringing everybody with us and leaving nobody behind” as we transition to a green economy, he said.
Speaking on the resolution “Stop the Dismantling of Public Education,” Renee Ezell, Local 119, described the struggles of her local’s members, who work for a private contractor in the public schools of Winslow, New Jersey. “We’re not getting the students’ needs met because we’re short-staffed,” she said, and “we can’t keep people because … the wage is so low and they want you to do so much with so little.”
Mike Tomaloff, Local 1186, said that the point of the right-wing demands to ban certain books from public schools “is to make us un-empathetic. … There’s no room for empathy in capitalism [so] they want to take it out of schools.”
Lexi Kenis, Local 1466, proposed an amendment to the public education resolution putting the union on record opposing police in schools, which passed overwhelmingly.
General Secretary-Treasurer Andrew Dinkelaker gave a thorough financial report in the morning, and received a standing ovation and praise from delegates for his stewardship of the union’s finances. In the afternoon, delegates discussed and approved several amendments to the national union constitution.
The convention re-elected General President Carl Rosen, Secretary-Treasurer Dinkelaker and Director of Organization Mark Meinster to two-year terms. Director of Education Kari Thompson also ran for the Director of Organization position.
Following the convention session, retired UE Director of International Affairs Robin Alexander gave the 2023 Florence Criley Women’s Leadership Speaker Series talk at City of Asylum bookstore in Pittsburgh’s Northside neighborhood. Alexander spoke about her 2022 e-book, International Solidarity in Action. A recording of the event, which was live-streamed, is available at https://vimeo.com/857170291. Alexander’s book can be downloaded, and donations can be made to support UE’s international solidarity work, at InternationalSolidarityInAction.org.