Last week, the Texas Young Active Labor Leaders (YALL) hosted its second biennial YALL Summit in Austin. Nearly 250 young labor leaders, union activists and community allies joined together to chart the course of the labor movement in Texas and beyond.
Attendees heard from other young labor and political leaders such as Josette Jaramillo, president of the Colorado AFL-CIO, and Greg Casar, Austin City Council member. Panels and workshops covered topics ranging from union organizing sweeping through "right to work" states like Texas and Oklahoma, advancing racial justice and immigrant rights in the labor movement, facilitating collaboration between unions and environmental justice groups, connecting fights for workers' rights with community activism, and more. The 2019 Texas YALL Summit offered a venue where young workers could connect with one another and strategize to address the issues that impact them at the workplace, in their unions and in their communities.
Two 2019 YALL Summit attendees have taken the time to share their experiences at the gathering in their own words. First up is Erica Scarlett, a 32-year-old office professional from Waco who also attended the first YALL Summit in 2017.
Erica Scarlett, OPEIU 277, Fort Worth, Texas
My name is Erica Scarlett, and I am a young active labor leader in my community. I work at American Income Life, one of the few unionized companies in my hometown of Waco. I am a union steward at my job, have been for the past three years. I am part of the Office and Professional Employees (OPEIU) Local 277 based in Fort Worth.
My local was invited to the first YALL Summit in 2017, which was the start of a life-changing movement, as well as a breathtaking experience. This particular YALL conference was held in Houston during the weekend of the presidential inauguration. That experience was amazing as we all came together from all cultural backgrounds with one goal in mind: "Unity for the minority." You could only imagine my excitement when I was told our local was invited to the 2019 YALL Summit: "Ignite the fight." I was ecstatic and pumped to see what our young labor leaders were going to bring to the table this year.
I really enjoyed traveling to Austin, the capital of our great state, and being a part of the "solidarity movement." There was a great panel of speakers who spoke volumes and motivated us to do more in our communities, as well as promise to stand together in solidarity. There were a variety of workshops that we had the option to choose from. I chose to go to the racial injustice in the workplace and common sense social economics workshops. I must say, the speakers in each of the workshops did an outstanding job, not just providing expertise on the subject matter, but making it hands on, interactive and interesting.
There were moments where we had breaks and kickbacks; a fun way to engage and get to know each other, as well as networking opportunities. I believe that by coming to these summits, our young labor leaders understand they are not alone. They have support, and we are able to recharge, refuel and reunite. Every time I have attended a YALL Summit it gets better and better. I am stoked to see what it will be in 2021. I must say, coming together again this year has motivated me to try and bring YALL to Waco. I have received tremendous support and guidance.
The future is NOW, and I leave you with this chant: "I said YALL, baby! YALL, baby! YALL, baby! YALL!" (repeat after me)/"You have to be an active leader or you gots to go! #BeTheChangeYouWantToSee"
Angel Silvestre Avila, IBEW 583, El Paso, Texas
Angel Silvestre Avila, a 24-year-old electrical apprentice with Electrical Workers (IBEW) Local 583 in El Paso, also shared his reflections on the YALL Summit:
Hello to everyone who will be reading this blog. This is my first time writing a blog, as well as my first time attending this type of seminar or conference. I was nominated by my union to represent IBEW Local 583 at the 2019 YALL Summit. The business manager of my union, Leticia Marcum, nominated me and my union members passed a motion in order for me to attend. I would like to thank my fellow union members—especially Letty, our business manager—for this wonderful opportunity and seeing me as a young union leader for my local.
Before attending the summit, I had different expectations. I thought it was going to be a formal event where everyone is there to learn but not necessarily to communicate with each other, where everyone is judging you on your appearance, how you speak, your ethnicity, the way you hold yourself and if you come from a blue- or white-collar background. What I got was a completely different experience; it was actually quite shocking to me. On the contrary, everyone there was very respectful, friendly and accepted you for who you were—not just the people who hosted the summit but also the ones attending: the LGBTQ community, teachers, building trades, social workers, local Democratic Socialists of America groups, government employees, the Sierra Club and the Progressive Workers Union, stagehands, transport workers, many different IBEW locals and much more. The reason I mention so many of these associations and people is because each one had an impact on my experience, whether it was union issues, different takes and perspectives on the things going on in our nation and how young active labor leaders can make a difference.
A big thing that I learned going to the workshops and listening to the guest speakers and featured panels is that it doesn't matter anymore if you are in the blue- or white-collar industry, or if you obtained your career through a university or trade school. I learned that everyone who attended the conference had a common interest; that interest being a livable wage for everyone in our communities. Some of the main issues that I came to be more aware of are immigration issues in the workplace, people in the LGBTQ community and the struggles they deal with on a daily basis in the workforce. I also learned about women's rights, issues affecting Hispanics and African Americans, and public school teachers. I will not get into detail of everything that was discussed, but what I would like to say is although there were many issues brought to the table, there were also many solutions that were given in order to better these issues.
One thing that really stuck with me was when one young man said something to the effect of, "I'm glad to see so many people here, and I would like to say many of us are fighting for these same issues. People don't see the struggles we face on a daily basis: trying to put food on the table, living paycheck to paycheck and staying out of poverty. We all came here not just for ourselves but to ensure that we can fight for our communities and our neighbors, to obtain a livable wage and be able to provide for our families comfortably. We are not just fighting for ourselves but for our community as well." (This is not verbatim, but how I interpreted his speech).
Once again, I would like to thank my local union members for this amazing opportunity and learning experience, especially the YALL team for hosting an amazing conference. I'd also like to thank my union brothers and sisters from different locals that made me feel very welcome and proud to be part of IBEW.
Finally, one last thing I would like to say and something I took from this experience is this:
These are my hands, I can build America from the ground up. These are my hands, but they do not just build America. I could also use them to fight, not with my fist, but simply with a pen and paper.
Estas son mis manos, puedo construir a los Estados Unidos desde lo mas bajo, estas son mis manos, no solamente para construir si no tambien para pelear, no con puños si no con papel y lapiz.