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After Election Push, Employee Free Choice Act at the Top of the Agenda for the AFL-CIO

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With International Human Rights Day, December 10, less than two weeks away, the AFL-CIO and its affiliates are preparing to commemorate the day with renewed vigor, resolve, and hope that we can restore fundamental workers' rights in America.

For three years now the AFL-CIO has maintained that restoring American workers' freedom to form unions and bargain collectively is the Federation's top political and legislative priority.

This election season was no different. The Federation believes that politics and organizing must be linked and that the nexus is legislation to restore workers' rights. Federation political director Karen Ackerman said repeatedly that political activity must generate organizing. President John Sweeney asked state federations and central labor councils to make sure endorsed candidates were either already co-sponsors of the Employee Free Choice Act (EFCA) or pledged to co-sponsor it if elected. The Employee Free Choice Act is the federation's legislative vehicle to make the first major step to restore workers' rights. EFCA would amend the National Labor Relations Act to allow private sector workers to form unions by simply signing a card or petition, impose real penalties on employers who violate the law, and allow for arbitration to settle first contract disputes.

The stunning victory of Democratic Congressional candidates created a pro-worker and pro-worker rights majority in the House of Representatives and a much more supportive Senate.

In the past three years the AFL-CIO has commemorated International Human Rights Day with a nationwide grassroots demand to restore human rights in America's workplace.

This year the AFL-CIO will commemorate the day with an organizing summit. The summit will bring together 500 of the nation's best organizers, union activists, union allies, and national and grassroots labor leaders to plan the next stage of the campaign to win workers' rights and pass EFCA in this very different political environment. The summit will also showcase the best non-NLRB organizing campaigns, campaigns that allow workers to win despite a failed law and broken process.

The summit will begin December 8 at 11:00 a.m. at the Capitol Hyatt. John Sweeney and Larry Cohen will frame the challenge and issue the charge for the summit. At noon, the 500 summit attendees will march to the Senate Park to be joined by 2,000 union activists, House Labor Committee Chairman George Miller, Senate Labor Committee Chair Ted Kennedy, AFL-CIO President John Sweeney, CWA President and AFL-CIO Organizing Committee Chairman Larry Cohen, AFT President Ed McElroy, and NEA President Reg Weaver to call for the rapid passage of the Employee Free Choice Act and the restoration of human rights in America's workplaces.

The participation of the Chairs of both Congressional Labor Committees, the very different Congress, the changed political environment, and the role the AFL-CIO and union activists played to change the political landscape provide a much more hopeful frame for this year's Human Rights Day.

Friday afternoon at the summit, December 8, three of America's best organizers will talk about their campaigns to organize tens of thousands of workers outside the strictures of the National Labor Relations Act. Ed Sabol, organizing director of CWA, will talk about their campaign that organized 20,000 high tech workers at Cingular Wireless. Jim Schmitz, organizing director at AFSCME, will talk about their Chicago campaign to organize 10,000 healthcare workers at Resurrection Hospital. Leticia Zavala, organizingresident of the Farm Labor Organizing Committee (FLOC), will talk about their historic campaign that organized 7,000 Mexican workers who work in North Carolina's fields.

The summit participants will then return to working on the plan and campaign to pass EFCA, breaking into eight groups to strategize next steps and to work on the training and plan to create an array of 250,000 grassroots worksite leaders to push EFCA in this Congress and to elect a president who will sign and enact it.

Saturday night the summit will recess to a banquet to honor George Miller and former Senator John Edwards. Radio host, actor, and comic Jackie Guerra will emcee the banquet. American Rights at Work Chairman and former House Democratic Leader David Bonior and grassroots organizing leaders will talk about all that Miller and Edwards have done to fight for workers' freedom to form unions and pass EFCA and earn the federation Paul Wellstone Aware. John Sweeney will present the award to both men who will then speak.

Saturday's summit agenda will begin with AFSCME President and federation political committee chair Gerry McEntee speaking about the link between politics and organizing followed by a panel discussion and Steelworkers President Leo Gerard.

Late Saturday morning we will break into eight workshops to focus on how to run and win strategic, non-NLRB organizing campaigns. Organizers will share what has worked for them, what to avoid, how to better work together, and build the internal capacity to organize in the most difficult environments.

Pat Friend, President of the Association of Flight Attendants/CWA and chair of Global Union Federation will lead a discussion global organizing featuring Violet Seboni of South Africa's COSATU, Peter Olney of the International Longshore and Warehouse Union, and Sharon Burrows of Australia's ACTU.

The summit at this historic moment will focus on what it takes to organize and win in this climate and how to change the climate to restore workers' freedom to form unions and bargain collectively.

For more information, on the 2006 AFL-CIO Organizing Summit contact Katrina Blomdahl ( kblomdah@aflcio.org or 202-637-3921).