In the summer before every General Election, representatives from hundreds of unions across California come together for the California Labor Federation’s Biennial Convention, where they discuss endorsements for state-level electoral races and ballot measures, policy positions, and other important matters. Due to the ongoing COVID pandemic, this year’s Biennial took place virtually on Zoom, with more than 500 attendees logged in to help determine Labor’s priorities for the November election and beyond.
“I was thrilled and excited for what the convention would be like, as this is my first time attending virtually,” said Organizing Steward Alvin Dayoan. “We all wished that it would be in person, but doing this virtually is the most efficient and safest way of conducting the conference during a pandemic.”
The two-day convention opened with a moving speech from civil rights icon Reverend James Lawson. His powerful words set the stage for a lengthy and emotionally charged discussion around a series of resolutions pertaining to police brutality and racial injustice.
“The resolutions that were presented and passed reinforced my faith in our union and reminded me that my voice matters,” said Organizing Steward Charlotte Stevens. “I thank my brothers and sisters for doing what is right.”
“I was glad to see the unity around racial inequality and social justice issues from most of the unions involving policing in the United States!” remarked Organizing Steward Mike Patterson, who spoke to the delegates during the convention to share his experiences and perspective.
“It was gut-wrenching and painful to hear from delegates whose entire lives have been impacted,” added Organizing Steward Melissa Echeverria. “It’s clear and evident that we must continue to confront racism, injustice, and oppression.”
The second day of the convention centered around the endorsement process for the November 2020 General Election. Prior to the start of the convention, the Labor Federation’s Executive Council – comprised of dozens of union leaders from the state’s largest labor organizations, including IBEW 1245’s Tom Dalzell, who serves as a Labor Federation Vice President – met to review and assess the candidates for State Assembly, State Senate and U.S. Congress, as well as the ballot measures that will appear on the November ballot. They looked closely at the recommendations that they received from the various Central Labor Councils located within each district, and they factored in voting records and past positions to determine which candidate in each race is likely to be the strongest advocate for organized labor if elected. They also evaluated the ballot measures extensively, and then issued a complete set of endorsement recommendations to the delegates for consideration.
As the endorsements were presented to the convention, the delegates had the opportunity to set specific races aside for further discussion regarding that candidate or ballot measure’s potential impact on California’s working families. These discussions provided additional insights and compelling arguments both for and against the Executive Council’s recommendations. In some cases, they would reveal information that compelled delegates to vote down the recommendation and present an alternative option. The voting occurred digitally through Zoom, ensuring that each delegate had the opportunity to weigh in during the process, and the results were tallied and announced immediately to maintain transparency.
“I am always blown away by the participation and passion of the union members across the state,” remarked Staff Organizer Rene Cruz Martinez. “For both new and returning delegates, it is a reminder of the democratic process we have in place to make labor’s voice heard while considering our members’ interests.”
“In previous elections, I would do my own research on propositions and candidates, but I always questioned the stuff I read. I never knew who put out the info, so I was always skeptical, and kind of had to vote on what I thought was right,” said Organizing Steward and first-time convention delegate Brandon Fosselman. “This convention gave me new tools to use in my personal voting. I now have new points of reference. I now will ask how this proposition or candidate impacts the labor movement.”
The experience reminded Organizing Steward David Ly that the labor movement’s greatest power is its ability to come together as a unified force.
“Standing alongside my brothers and sisters in solidarity allowed us to combine our efforts to make an impact,” he said. “We don’t always achieve our goals, but it’s easier standing as a group than as an individual against these odds.”
The convention went relatively smoothly, and the delegates left feeling excited and empowered to make real changes for working people this November, and beyond.
“I was pleasantly surprised that they were able to pull the virtual convention off with very few glitches. Kudos to the California Labor Federation!” added Patterson. “It was a great to be a part of the Convention!”
“Being remote had its own challenges,” remarked Laquania “Q” Thompson, “but overall, I enjoyed attending the conference and am looking forward to the next one!”
IBEW 1245’s delegation to the 2020 Biennial consisted of Organizing Stewards Mike Patterson, David Ly, Laquania Thompson, Melissa Echeverria, Brandon Fosselman, Charlotte Stevens and Alvin Dayoan, along with staffers Hunter Stern, Rene Cruz Martinez, and Rebecca Band, and Business Manager Tom Dalzell.