Sharon Griffith is an administrative assistant and shop steward for the Utility Workers Union of America (UWUA) Local 1-2, in New York City, and a member of UWUA’s Young Workers Initiative Committee. She has said young workers groups are ideally positioned to reverse decades of anti-union rhetoric. “We can give [young workers] our side of the story before corporations’ relentless propaganda model [instills the idea that] ‘you should just be lucky to have a job,’” Griffith said at an event at the UWUA Convention in 2015. “We can further educate them that it is in fact the corporations, the employers, that are lucky to have us.”
For climate activist Alexandria Fisher, the labor movement has proven a vessel for making a more significant impact on climate-focused interventions than in more conventional climate spaces she’s engaged with, like the United Nations’s annual Conference of the Parties (COP), which has repeatedly failed to accomplish its purpose. In 2017, Fisher took a job working in the Ministry of Energy in Alberta. She joined the Alberta Union of Provincial Employees — the largest public sector union in western Canada — that serves around 100,000 government workers, and was elected chair of its environmental committee. Together with a group of other young women in their early 30s, she helped to pass a resolution committing the union to initiating the decarbonization of members’ pension plans. Ultimately, she and others involved with the effort were able to “convince people in the heart of oil country to support climate.” Fisher praised the union’s elders for their support and willingness to pass the torch and create space for leadership of younger organizers with new visions.
In June, the AFL-CIO, the largest federation of unions in the U.S., issued a resolution to launch a young workers program, intended to be a hub for empowering young workers with access to existing union infrastructure through its affiliated state federations and central labor councils. “Young workers are organizing from the ground up, leading high-profile campaigns around the country and winning,” Liz Shuler, AFL-CIO president, told Truthout in a statement, of the federation’s decision to revamp a version of what it began in 2009. “Young workers report the economic status quo is working against them, and when they look for answers, they see collective action through labor organizing as the solution,” Shuler said. In addition to training and mobilizing more young organizers, the initiative will plug into legislative efforts around student debt and affirming college athletes’ right to organize and promote collective bargaining education efforts in high schools.
The influx of resources could majorly amplify ongoing efforts and simultaneously help the labor movement “save itself,” as John Hiatt, former chief of staff for the AFL-CIO president, wrote in The Prospect. There’s no shortage of youth-led union drives and young worker committees to amplify. The Labor Network for Sustainability is in the midst of planning a Young Workers Climate Convergence in Los Angeles in partnership with the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 11, in September, where they’ll bring together workers across professions who want labor to lead on climate. The Transport Workers Union (TWU) has built a young workers program called the Future Leaders Organizing Committee (FLOC) in its air division, which has roughly doubled since it began in 2019, according to Stephanie Laverty of the TWU. In September, the group plans to open up the young workers program to TWU’s other two divisions: transit and rail.