News Column

El Paso Leaders Gather to Recall Past Victories, New Goals

Sept. 3, 2013

Labor Day isn't about getting a day off from work, barbecuing or spending some extra time with friends or family, labor activists said Monday during their annual Labor Day gathering.

Instead, it's about remembering the sacrifices made by workers in the past and the gains that have been made and identifying challenges that are still ahead, they said.

About 300 labor, political and community leaders gathered Monday for the Central Labor Union's 40th annual Labor Day Breakfast at the Wyndham El Paso Airport Hotel.

"It should be a day of reflection, reaffirmation and education," said Claude Cummings Jr., District 6 vice president for the Communications Workers of America and Monday's keynote speaker. Cummings represents 70,000 workers in five states including Texas.

"We have so many young people who don't know that the 40-hour workweek, weekends, holidays and other things the middle class enjoys have been the result of labor," Cummings said before his speech. "There wouldn't be a robust middle class in this country without labor."

Still, labor is facing a crisis and has lost considerable clout since the 1980s, he said.

Just about 11 percent of workers are unionized now compared to more than 20 percent three decades ago, Cummings said.

Labor unions need to do a better job of educating younger workers about why unions are still needed, he said. They also need to join together and form coalitions with other like-minded groups such as the NAACP to help better the lives of working people, he added.

Susie Aguilera, president of the El Paso Central Labor Union which organizes the annual breakfast event, said labor unions are more important than ever.

"Some folks wonder

if labor unions are necessary, if social injustice has gone away," Aguilera said. "Are we getting fair wages? Are women being treated equally? Are we working under safe conditions? Does child labor still exist? Can you honestly say it doesn't?

"Folks say there are laws in place to ensure that those things don't happen," Aguilera continued. "We know laws can be revoked to benefit injustice."

Being involved is now more important than ever, Aguilera said. "And we are coming," she said.

Becky Moeller, president of the Texas AFL-CIO, was one of the visiting dignitaries. The gains that labor have made over the years are being "chipped away at" and labor activists need to keep vigilant, Moeller said.

Aguilera was one of two labor activists honored during the event. Aguilera, also chief steward and secretary-treasurer for the American Federation of Government Employees Local 2516, was named Labor Advocate of the Year.

Osvaldo De La Fuente was given the Lifetime Achievement Award. De La Fuente has been involved with the National Association of Letter Carriers since he started working for the U.S. Postal Service in 1985. He has held several leadership positions within the union and has been active in the Central Labor Union.

Amanda Petty, a math major at Texas A&M and a Coronado High School graduate, was given a $1,000 scholarship during the event. The breakfast helps to raise money for scholarships for the children and grandchildren of union members.

David Burge may be reached at 546-6126.

Source: (c)2013 the El Paso Times (El Paso, Texas). Distributed by MCT Information Services.

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