Gebre 2013 AFL-CIO Convention Acceptance

Los Angeles, Calif.

Thank you, brothers and sisters, for your confidence in me. And I want to thank Joe Hansen, MaryBe McMillan and Doug Moore for your moving nominations.

Let me express a deeply felt gratitude and thank Rich Trumka and Liz Shuler for having faith in me and inviting me to help lead this movement I love. A movement, without any doubt moving in the right direction. A labor movement positioned to speak, fight and win for all workers.

I also want to recognize my family, some of whom traveled from far away to witness this moment. My mother, who is 81 years old, my sisters Nisihit, my nephew Yonathan.
My mother in-law and sisters in-law who came from Wisconsin to be with me today. And the rest of my family who are here.

And to my beautiful wife Jennifer, who is my best friend and a great trade unionist on her own, thank you for being you.

To my union family from Orange County, you are in my heart, and will always be in my heart. Together, we have built a labor movement in a county no one ever imagined would be possible.

Thirty years ago, as a 14 year old Ethiopian child, not only did I dream of America, I started a journey to live out my dreams. That's when a few other friends and I decided to escape the horrors of war and a brutal military government and walked for weeks across the desert to the Sudan. I lived in a Sudanese refugee camp, until I was given a once in a life time opportunity to come to America as a political refugee. At the tender age of 15, I started a brand new life in this city of angels. I graduated from high school not far away from this convention center, at Belmont High. To say life as a teen in LA, without having a parent, or any relative, was not easy would be an understatement. I had to work a full-time job in a liquor store, getting paid cash under the table, studying to be the best student I could be and trying every sport possible in hopes of getting an athletic scholarship. I was lucky, I became a good distance runner, good enough to gain a full track and field scholarship.

This is not just MY story. It's a story of millions who proudly call America home. Documented and undocumented, the immigrant story is what makes this country of ours so special.

Once in college, at Cal Poly Pomona, I took a night shift job as a loader for UPS. That's where I got a chance to work my first union job, a job where my rights at work were respected. Where I learned I had a protective shield called collective bargaining.

And so, I stand before you today. I stand before you knowing no political party is our salvation. Our salvation won't come from political consultants or polling firms. Our salvation comes from our solidarity and the work we do with those who share our common values in the community.

Brothers and sisters, I am ready to work. With Rich and Liz, I am ready to work for an America that I dreamed of. For an America that values work and honors those who do the work.

You see, the America I dreamed about expands voting rights, instead of going back to the dark days of systemic discrimination. My beloved America doesn't value the 1st amendment rights of corporations any more than those of the coal miner in West Virginia or the carwash worker in Los Angeles. My beloved America doesn't fire workers for wanting to have a voice at work.

So today, I pledge to you to follow the lead of our leader Rich Trumka and fight not for what is convenient, but for what is right.

To my brothers and sisters in local labor movements, state federations and CLCs, I am one of you. I know how hard your job is, and how important your role is. Each of us has the responsibility to convene the labor movement in our own communities – across unions and sectors and to work in real partnership with allies in the community. That's what we do –and when we are at our best, the labor movement can lead. We need to be at our best, and I pledge to you that I will always be there to listen, advise and help our CLCs and state federations be the best we can be.

I am being asked to fill the shoes of my hero, Arlene Holt Baker. Arlene, thank you for being so strong. Thank you for a life of service not only to the labor movement, but to all who seek justice. You have been a great ambassador of our movement. I know you are not going away and we are all lucky that you will be around leading, teaching and fighting for voting rights, workers' rights and everything in between.

I want to close with this. This is not about me. It's a call from a new labor movement unmistakably saying no matter what your accent, no matter what your skin color, no matter how far from here you were born, come not only to join our movement, but lead it.

Thank you again for your trust in me and let's go to work!