Reverend L. Charles Stovall needed a ride home from the Dallas Labor Day Breakfast, and I was happy to get to spend time with him.
Almost as soon as he got in the car, he called Reverend Holsey Hickman to tell him that the annual breakfast is getting better and better. I wholeheartedly agreed.
The hard data showed that ticket sales were way over the 500 mark that we strived for over the last decade. Participation from labor, political, religious, and community leaders was far better. The three of us could remember when area unions had to scramble to even find even one religious leader to open the ceremonies. There were no community groups. Civil rights and immigrant rights weren’t mentioned.
National Unions Are Watching Dallas
This year, we had two national union leaders speaking: UFCW International President Marc Perrone and ATU International Secretary-Treasurer Oscar Owens. Perrone told the crowd, “We are the labor movement. We are the last and only hope for America.” He also said, “The fight for justice will go on forever as long as there are greedy bastards out there!” My favorite quote was one word repeated three times, “Organize! Organize! Organize!”
Texas AFL-CIO President Rick Levy was in the audience and trying to listen while admirers hustled him into one photo opportunity after another. Louis Malfaro, leader of Texas’ biggest union, the Federation of Teachers, presented the Linda Bridges award for outstanding union women to the Dallas AFL-CIO Political Director, Lorraine Montemayor. The applause showed how much everyone agreed with the choice. Montemayor said, “You are the backbone of this country!” Then, true to form, she began outlining some of the hard work planned for this election season.
The award for “Hero of Labor” deservedly went to DJ Garza of the UAW. As an organizer for the Workers’ Defense Project, Garza has made a difference in winning rights for Dallas workers. The “Community Champion” award went to Faith in Texas. They turned out many volunteers for the recent petitioning campaign to win paid sick time.
Political Leaders Know the Value of Union Support
I don’t know if Mark York, principal officer of the Dallas AFL-CIO and emcee for the breakfast, was able to mention every office holder and candidate in the audience. It seemed to me that they were all there. Texas governor candidate Lupe Valdez put it this way: “I work with unions because we want to do the right thing for every working Texan.”
Colin Allred, candidate for Congress in District 32 — one of the most closely watched races in America — wowed the crowd. Like many candidates this year, he is also a union member. Also on the dais were Congresspersons Eddie Bernice Johnson and Marc Veasey. The Texas Democratic Party Chair, Gilberto Hinojosa, came to speak, as did Senator Royce West, State Rep Victoria Neave, County Judge Clay Jenkins, Commissioner John Wiley Price, and Councilman Scott Griggs. Out in the audience, there were many more.
Look Back, Look Forward!
Us old timers can remember when the annual breakfast petered out for a couple of years. It was expensive back in the 1990s, and sometimes it just didn’t seem like it was worth the trouble. During those two years without the annual AFL-CIO breakfast, our little Jobs with Justice group seized the opportunity. We didn’t have the money for a banquet, so we fell back on time-tested labor tactics. We did car caravans to labor’s “hot spots” around North Texas. News reporters liked it, and we more than kept up the Labor Day tradition.
When the breakfast started again, Jobs with Justice worked to get faith leaders, especially Stovall and Hickman — because they were also major civil rights leaders — to come. We had to raise the money, but we soon had a table of ten religious and community leaders. Stovall and Hickman reflected the new, broader and more inclusive AFL-CIO that would extend its influence throughout the progressive movement.
This trend is extending. In 1999, the AFL-CIO began to reach out to undocumented workers for the first time in its history. Today, there are no barriers between the Dallas AFL-CIO and every aspect of the progressive movement. The Labor Day breakfast showed that we have made tremendous progress, and it points the way toward a future in which the progressive movement is truly focused on working families. In that future, nothing can stop us!